Following the memorial to David Grant this week I’ve dug into the archive for this interview I did with David in early 2001 – ed
David Grant Special Events is set to see the legacy of its Olympic successes continue.
After managing more than 320 events through the 17 days of the Games, catering to the whims and needs of the IOC and other big Games players, such as the US National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) and Sports Illustrated / Time Inc, the future looks even brighter for DGSE.
That future includes Centenary of Federation celebrations, the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, the Athens Olympics in 2004… David Grant is even talking to the Italians about their event requirements for the 2006 Winter Games. “And Bangkok would be good for 2008, because I love the Thai food at the Oriental Hotel, even though Beijing is still in there with a chance to get the 2008 Games,” said David Grant.
In fact food is integral to the Olympic success of the company. “I put a proposal to SOCOG for an Aussie barbecue in Atlanta – some time later Di Henry came to me saying they had no money but would pay our airfares. I contacted Norma (Willis) and Tom (Rutherford), and they worked for me to stage the Australian event in the IOC Centennial Club in Atlanta,” said David.
Fate played a small part in building Olympic relationships, when the large US caterer the IOC had engaged withdrew. “I think because Australians are faster on their feet we hopped in and solved the problems, fixing the air conditioning, finding generators… everything,” Mr Grant said.
The IOC then engaged David to design and manage their special events in the IOC Olympic Club at Nagano. David again called on the assistance of caterer Norma Willis, And the snowball effect began.
“After Nagano we worked on a lot of events – three years to go, two years to go, one year to go, logo launches, all sorts of events. Securing the IOC as a client was the best thing we could have done, because the Olympic sponsors went to them asking what events company they were using.
“The IOC would ring and say sponsor X really needs help, and we couldn’t say no. Then, for example, you’d contract with one sponsor – like NBC, and then they would say that the Board of GE, which controls them, is coming and they’ll need assistance. We couldn’t say no to them either. In the last two months before the Games we picked up four huge clients,” Mr Grant said. In fact, DGSE worked for 12 of the 24 Olympic sponsors – about 10 more than any other special event company.
The Sydney Olympic-associated venues DGSE managed included the IOC spaces both at Quay Restaurant and Sydney Olympic Park, two sponsors clubs, seven sponsor hospitality suites, the mega – open to the public – Lindemans Wine Bar at SOP, four hotel areas, two Harbourside marquees, as well as three trips a day to the Hunter, Blue Mountains or Harbour locations.
Salt Lake City will be DGSE’s fourth Olympics.
Despite a bright future, DGSE has decided to downsize, changing emphasis slightly to a more boutique, hand made style of event, “this is what we do best and how we started”, said Grant. DGSE will drop 10 of their 17 full-time staff. “Our staff have known for a long time and they worked out how to manage it between them. Some chose to work on contract, for instance,” he said.
David Grant is passionate about his staff – permanent, contracted and temporary, and bursting with pride over their efforts and achievements during the Olympics. He said the most memorable part of the Olympics was seeing how hard they worked and continued to perform with professionalism. “We’ve always treated our staff well, and they were paid huge Olympic bonuses. I’m pretty sure they were getting paid more than any one else of a similar level – but they deserved it.”
“In Atlanta, the American waiters would spend three hours getting to work and another three getting home for a four-hour event. They ended up not going to work at all. We didn’t have those problems, despite the fact that everybody was very tired,” he said. His staff were sent on holidays and to retreats to assist their “recovery”.
David sees the American example as integral to the difference between Australian event companies and others overseas. International clients think very highly of Australian suppliers because we work harder, but complain less. “It’s also that we treat our clients money as if it is our own, whereas American event companies throw money around. And our resources in Australia are less, so we’re seen as more creative and better value for money.”
David said staff professionalism and creativity was not the only reason for the Olympic event success, with ORTA drawing special comment. “ORTA was amazing and transport was made as easy as was possible under the circumstances. Generally access was fabulous. We started on accreditation with our sponsors early to avoid transport and access problems.
“The only thing that made managing an event more difficult during the Olympics was that your usual backup was not available. If you needed more ice at the last minute, you just couldn’t get it or it would take a longer time than was acceptable,” David explained.
He admitted that there were some logistic barriers to hurdle. “The bureaucracy of the OCA was an oversight on our part and cost us all a lot of money with their tendency to over-plan. Every temporary structure had to be built to BA (Building Application) standards, making a project we quoted 100 hours to plan, ended up taking at least twice that to complete.”
With the success of the Olympics boosting the work and reputation of Australian companies like DGSE, the question still remains as to whether the Aussie event industry will benefit. David Grant believes it will. “Our clients are now seeing the real benefit of events, with a handful going to Salt Lake City. And maybe 100 people from SOCOG now have extended events experience… they’ll be looking for jobs, but I think the jobs will be there too.
On a slightly more cautious note, he said “I have already received 10 CVs from other people saying they are event organizers. They worked at the water polo or wherever, cuing music, and have completed Johnny Allen’s course (at UTS), which is a good course. Maybe there are 1,000 of these people who do not have events experience in the true sense. I don’t know where they’ll get work”.
Despite the massive logistics, the planning headaches, the cautionary remarks, David Grant has remained an Olympics fan. “When John Williamson sang Waltzing Matilda (at the Opening Ceremony) and our staff were together, it was tremendous. We’d been working for 12 weeks without a day off. We knew that once the Games started then the momentum would build and you just had to go with the flow.”
One of the major clients for DGSE was Sports Illustrated for whom they staged a number of parties in a marquee overlooking Farm Cove.