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Mice Net : December 2008
news “That’s why my staff always amaze me when we all manage to pull it off flawlessly. That’s my personal reward and delight, seeing how my team really are among the best in the world under the most mentally and physically challenging of circumstances.” But as you’d expect it wasn’t all smooth sailing and the DGSE team faced numerous nightmare scenarios in Beijing way beyond the cultural challenges you’d expect. “There was something like 20 [near-disasters] a day there because of the politics of the games, and the bureaucracy of the Chinese. Their complex way of doing business really is just so different to the rest of the world. “In my view their way of doing business is irrational, inefficient, non-intellectual, corrupt and very feudal at every level which I found mind numbingly frustrating but it’s what we had to deal with to get the job done. They truly are the most frightened, xenophobic and condescending nationality I’ve yet had to deal with and that makes it bloody heavy going when they realise they’ve got a lot to learn but are too afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. “As an international sponsor with 12 Olympic Games under their belt said to me – `they’ve taken a terribly hard job and made it impossible’.” One of the DGSE team’s scariest challenges was with the London House. They had been working on it for 12 months when in the London mayoral elections the legendary Ken Livingstone was thrown out and replaced with the eccentric powerhouse Boris Johnson. “We had been working for the city, and for a year were producing the event in a lovely indoor venue in beautiful Ritan Park,” said Ms Pitsikas. “Then the election was on and the whole project came under much wider scrutiny; politics became involved and the London Unlimited Agency who had been our client for a year were stripped of the project which was taken over directly by the City of London itself.” For a month the future of the entire project was in doubt and on hold. DGSE stopped work. Then on July 7 Mr Grant and Ms Pitsikas got on a plane and flew to Beijing to meet the “new” clients to see if it could be resurrected. “They were amazing people – smart, charming and focused and they were confident in their ability and our track record and so they took a giant leap of faith which was to throw out a year’s worth of planning and basically start again.” The client changed the venue from the quaint tea house to a huge open-air courtyard garden on the other side of town, and with only 30 days to go until the Opening Ceremony, even David Grant was nervous. “It’s a hell of a lot of money to entrust to basically a stranger, and by the time the project re-started we’d lost all our key suppliers or missed deadlines to get stuff built, people locked away, permits submitted, etc,“ he said. “But we just all hunkered down in the office and worked like dogs to get it done and really Katerina’s sheer guts and determination and my years of very hands-on event experience went into auto pilot and somehow, with the tireless support of Amelia and Johnny, we got it done. “It was certainly a lesson in quick decision-making as within a week we had to redesign and re-order every element, simultaneously sourcing, briefing and supervising totally new suppliers for every part from catering to set build, AV to furnishings, builders to electricians, etcetera,” Ms Pitsikas said. “The whole way of doing business in China is about building a relationship – `face’ – lots of toing and froing and long slow considerations, which with four weeks to go we simply didn’t have time for. And David’s not the most patient or politically correct person so I’m sure it was as much of a learning curve for the Chinese as it was for us!” “Having the deeply reliable and experienced Annie Rechner on J&J and Keri Chittenden on NBC really made it all possible because I was able to totally leave them to it for that month while I helped Katerina rescue London House. I mean, we were still finding generators, air conditioners, waiters, cleaners and food suppliers on the day the Games started,” Mr Grant said. TOP: Time out for David and Katerina on the Great Wall. ABOVE: London House. mice.net 11