EDITOR'S NOTE: Ken Reich covered the Los Angeles Olympics from the beginning of the bid in 1977, to the day they held their Closing Ceremonies Aug. 12, 1984. Among his main assignments was coverage of the daily workings of the people who planned and put on the Games, the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee. Now, a year after the L.A. Games have been written into the record books as a stunning success, Reich has written a book about how the people of the LAOOC pulled it all off. The soon-to-be-published, "Secrets of the Organizing Committee, Inside the 1984 Olympics ," will be excerpted in The Times sports section for six days, starting today.
The Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, as its president, Peter V. Ueberroth, made clear, was not the usual business organization that could be run in a usual business way. Neither Ueberroth, nor his executive vice president, Harry L. Usher, bothered afterward to conceal the nature of their administration.
Ueberroth said: "I think that it was strange. It was unusual. There were not normal practices, not normal business practices. It wasn't a time for kindness, to take the time and help people through problems, and people had to be moved aside and shunted. And all that happened. But the result worked."
Usher said: "I think allegiance and fidelity is probably based on respect and fear at its grass roots. Fear alone will never do it. Respect alone might do it most of the time. But without some fear there will be people who are tempted to stray.
"I think that the idea that (staff) people were on the whole quite faithful to the leadership is a result of both respect and a sort of certain level of fear in a way, because Peter's personality lends--either he does it consciously or unconsciously--to unexpected outbursts of both affection and calumny, and you never know which one's coming. And for me, I think I'm regarded as somewhat distant by most people."
"Creative tension" was the phrase some staff members used to describe the regime under which the Olympic committee was directed. Ueberroth said that that was not his term. But he readily acknowledged that he had intentionally set about to "create goals, sometimes impossible goals, and some tensions" in the everyday operation as a means of testing his staff.
The Olympics themselves provided a great incentive. Many of those who came to work for the committee were inspired by the event itself, with all its great international symbolism, to work hard. Others felt that, because the Los Angeles Games were being put on privately rather than by the government, they were a powerful instrument to demonstrate the validity of the American free enterprise system.
Ueberroth and Usher worked hard, too, to inspire their 70,000 employees and volunteers.
"I spent almost every Saturday and Sunday through May and June and July going out to groups of 200 or 300 or 500 or 1,000 that . . . had been formed to work the venues . . . and Peter did the same thing," Usher recalled. "(We weren't) in some room somewhere, isolated, pulling strings."
Usher was sensitive about the hard-nosed image he and Ueberroth earned among those inside who knew how the Olympics had really been put together, and particularly about all the firings and demotions for which they had been responsible.
"A lot of the decisions (that) had to be made to can people and shuffle people around and sort of play chess with the right configuration of people," Usher said, "were all necessitated by having to pull this thing off."
Which didn't make it any easier for the staff. When the Games were over and the stringent rules against talking without supervision to outsiders about their experiences had lapsed, many described the administrative policies with reserve, others with a shudder.
Margy Fetting, a coordinator of the committee's Olympic Neighbors program, recalled: "People were under tight controls there. You were really watched. What time you got in, what you looked like, what your demeanor was, who you hung around with inside . . . I am delighted to be out of it. Only after six months out of it, do you realize how much it robbed you of your life. It just took, it ate everything out of you, and it's like now, I smell trees, enjoy talking to people and have my sense of humor back."
The organization of the Games took place against a background of repeated crises in recent Olympics. Just a year before the Los Angeles Olympic bid began moving forward in 1977, the Montreal Games--plagued by corruption and unexpected cost overruns due in part to the exorbitant demands of international sports authorities--had sustained a $1 billion deficit. Montreal also had severe political problems, including a boycott by the African countries. The prior Olympics, in Munich, saw one of the most notorious terrorist attacks of the postwar era, the fatal Palestinian assault on Israeli athletes. The Olympics before that, in Mexico City in 1968, had seen, on their eve, a massacre of student protesters. Two years after Los Angeles was awarded the 1984 Games, the planning was disrupted by the American-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games. Some 65 national Olympic committees did not send teams to Moscow.
As it turned out, the Los Angeles Olympics turned a profit of $222.7 million on unrestricted revenues of $718.5 million, a phenomenal and unprecedented return of 31%. No Olympics in 50 years could boast of having made so much as a cent. Moreover, there were no terrorist incidents, nor any major protest demonstrations. The Soviet Union and most of its allies boycotted Los Angeles, but that boycott backfired. Not only did it help inspire great enthusiasm for the Games throughout America, but, due in part to an unpublicized telephone bank operation run directly out of the organizing committee under Ueberroth's personal direction, 140 countries, the largest number by far ever to attend an Olympics, were successfully recruited and did show up in Los Angeles.
By any standard, the Los Angeles Olympic Games were a fabulous success. Apparently, more spectators attended than any other Olympics in history. But more than that, the people of Los Angeles, who frequently are blase, sated as they are with big events of all kinds, took the Games to heart. A mellow atmosphere took hold throughout the city. This was evident from the time the torch relay entered the city the weekend before the opening ceremonies.
The mayor, Tom Bradley, said he realized the Games had caught on when he went out to greet the torch coming down the Pacific Coast Highway from Oxnard and Malibu the morning of July 21, 1984. When O.J. Simpson, the former USC and professional football star, ran the relay up the incline from the ocean into Santa Monica in the presence of Bradley, a crowd of thousands screamed with joy. And as the torch zig zagged through metropolitan Los Angeles, those crowds never diminished.
That was only the beginning of Olympic fever. People who would never have dreamed of buying tickets to a sporting event suddenly began pressing for them. For three weeks, Los Angeles was enthralled by the Olympics, just as it had been in 1932. It was a spectacular time in the city, one that millions of Southern Californians will never forget.
Why were the 1984 Games so successful? Some of the Olympic staff said they felt it was partially luck, such as the weather in the city being milder and more smog free than usual. Others noted the fascination of an event that dates from antiquity.
But a large number attributed the special success in Los Angeles primarily to certain policies adopted at the outset of the organizational effort by Ueberroth and Usher and rigidly adhered to thereafter. Many of their methods of administration, and particularly their intimidation of the staff, were controversial. But nearly everyone agreed that their basic policies were beneficial and that they had held to high standards.
The most important of these policies were a rigid, highly personalized control by Ueberroth and Usher over operations, communications, external dealings and decisions, especially in the financial area, and their enforcement of an extremely lean modus operandi. Among their standards were resistance to what was perceived as over commercialization and a refusal to permit an overly obtrusive role for security forces.
Edgar Best, the committee's security director, said he found that "control was an important word in and around the development of the Olympics" and particularly significant in Ueberroth's own vocabulary. Can you control this situation? Or are you going to let somebody else take it out of your control?
Committee planner Lee Aurich explained: "Peter (Ueberroth) is very high on a desire to control his environment and to be the person that's calling the shots and not dragged around by anyone, and I personally believe that the Olympics were successful because he had that drive and because he was relatively successful in executing it. And therefore, the Olympics weren't dominated by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) or the (sports) federations or local government . . . "
Daniel Greenwood, a banker and longtime Ueberroth friend, who joined the committee in 1981 to manage its relations with its corporate sponsors, said he had been instructed by Ueberroth not to ever let the sponsors finally determine what was to be done commercially.
So, when Anheuser Busch, which had paid about $10 million for its sponsorship, wanted to erect a two-story Budweiser six pack adjacent to the main Olympic stadium, the Los Angeles Coliseum, Greenwood made them take it down the street, out of sight of the stadium. And when Coca Cola, which had paid $15 million, wanted display and delivery rights at Olympic venues to which it felt it was entitled, he said no.
Committee Treasurer Conrad Freund had an early lesson in Ueberroth's policy, shortly after the ABC television network purchased the rights to show the Games in the United States for a record $225 million, thus in one swoop providing nearly half the money ultimately spent on the Games.
Freund recalled: "It was in the fall of '79 when the ABC agreement was announced publicly . . . and (it) couldn't have been a week after that that Marvin Bader from ABC, he comes into me and he says, 'Connie, we've got to have 2,000 rooms at the hotels, and Peter is going to control all the rooms, so this is what we want.' And I said, 'Hey, great, Marvin . . . That's fine. Just let me check it out with Peter.' And he said, 'Good, I'll come back and you tell me how much money you want.' And I said, 'Great.' And so I went to Peter and he said, 'When donkeys fly.' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'Well, this is typical ABC. You know, you fall for this every time some sponsor comes in here, somebody tells you, you're Mr. Nice Guy, you want to help them.' He said, 'Bull.' He said, 'They're going to run roughshod over you if you do this all the time.' He said, 'Let them wait. They don't have to have the rooms now. They'll get the rooms (later).' "
Edward Keen, the Knoxville World's Fair official who came to Los Angeles to supervise Olympic construction, said he had concluded that a major strength of the committee "was something that many people criticized, the dominance of Harry Usher and Peter Ueberroth. I think the form . . . was that of a benevolent dictatorship."
And John C. Argue, the attorney who more than any private citizen had been instrumental in securing the 1984 Games for Los Angeles and who remained an influential member of the executive committee of the board of directors, said he thought "99%, maybe 100%, certainly of the important decisions, were made by Harry and/or Peter. Everything was centralized."
It was not always popular with the employees. Bea Nemleha, who had run her own management and consulting firm in San Francisco and was used to authority in other places as well, said that normally "if you asked me to make a budget and say what I needed to run my department I'd do that, and then I would assume that whatever that budget was I was free to use it."
But at the Olympic committee, she said, while managing relations with foreign national Olympic committees, "I was asked to put together a budget and a staffing plan. (But) I was not free to spend the money the way I wanted to."
Not only did each expenditure over $1,000, even that already in her budget, require personal approval by Usher, but, "I started finding people in my department that I hadn't hired . . . They were on my payroll. But they were not part of my staffing scheme. So I had no control, either over the money or over the personnel, and that's what I call a mom and pop kind of an operation."
David Israel, the newspaper columnist who went to work for Ueberroth six months before the Games as the director of the president's office, was not impressed with such arguments.
"Most good companies, most very well run companies, most successful companies, have probably a brilliant autocratic leader at the top," he said. "That's what the Olympic committee had."
Alongside control, Ueberroth and Usher practiced a highly restrictive information policy. In no area was there so much information control as in finance.
Michael Mount, a group vice president, said, "We consciously tried to keep the number of people that knew the precise status of the funds to an absolute minimum, which I would guess was three people, maybe four if Paul (Ziffren, the chairman of the board of directors) did. And I was not one of the three that had to know."
And Robert Montgomery, the lawyer who joined the committee for several months as one of only five members of a short-lived management panel headed by Ueberroth, said Ueberroth had explained to him that his policy on accurate financial figures was "absolute secrecy, not sharing any information with anyone on the outside or even inside." There was no policy that Ueberroth adhered to so rigidly, even long after the Games were over.
The committee's financial controls were many, extending downward from Usher's required approval of all contracts (the committee had more than 2,000), as well as the right of approval of expenditures of more than $1,000. This was not relaxed until shortly before the Games began, when the limit for sports commissioners and some other officials went to $20,000.
Under Usher was a man with a reputation as the ultimate penny-pincher, G. Dale Rediker, the vice president for finance, who insisted for months upon personally reviewing and signing every check issued by the committee and conducting painstaking reviews of employee expense accounts and rejecting many items.
Rediker, who had worked six years at Expo '67 in Montreal, circulated around the committee--with Usher's enthusiastic approval--a weekly report in the year preceding the Games that detailed, with full use of the names involved, commitments entered into by staff members without proper authority.
The committee's general counsel, Carol Daniels, said that Rediker had once listed her in his report for a $32 item. Told about her recollection, the financial vice president responded, "It's the principle, not the amount." Rediker became a legend at the committee.
The group vice president for sports, Chuck Cale, told this story about him: "I sent in an expense report for one of our commissioners, who had gone to New York City . . . and he'd taken out the (federation) president and it was about six or eight, ten people, maybe more, following a major national championship . . . for cocktails and maybe hors d'oeuvres, it couldn't have been dinner I don't think, and the bill was like $122. And I approved it, and I sent it on, and this, by the way, happened on a number of occasions in similar ways. Dale wouldn't approve it. And he says, 'That's outrageous.' I said, 'It is outrageous.' I said, 'I'm outraged that this guy has these ranking people from his federation in one spot and the guy didn't spend more than $122 on them . . . You can't, with tip and tax, you can't get two drinks in New York per person for $10, if you've been there recently.' "
Leanness was very important at the committee. Treasurer Freund recalled that after a few months of working for Ueberroth, in early 1980 he went to him to ask for help.
"I said, 'Peter, I'd sure like to get an accounting assistant in here to do the books.' He said, 'What the hell for?' He said, 'I walked through there, your area, every night last week at 7 o'clock. I didn't see you anywhere. Now, you're telling me you want to hire another person. That's absolutely crazy. There's no way you can hire somebody.' And I thought, 'Holy cripe! What's this going to be like?' And that was the environment that we operated under, and I will grant you that in a lot of cases that was very frustrating. Truly frustrating. But on balance, it was the success. It accounted for, I think, in a large part, the financial success on the expenditure side of the Olympic Games."
Those who had known Ueberroth for a long time reported that he operated his travel business, First Travel Corp., in a similarly lean way long before he was hired to run the Olympics.
"Let me tell you, everybody worked very hard," said Charlotte Hyde, his business associate of two decades. "He's never been overstaffed."
Initially, Ueberroth and Usher hoped to operate the Olympics with far fewer people than the 1,750 who ultimately formed the so-called permanent staff of the Los Angeles Games, those who came to work at least two months before opening day.
"We underestimated," Ueberroth said simply.
Rediker recalled that he had been told when he came to work at the committee in January, 1983, nearly four years after it opened its offices, that the hope originally had been to hold the permanent staff to 350 and make up any slack with consultants. As Ueberroth and Usher traveled to such other major athletic events as the Spartakiad in Moscow and the world track and field championships in Helsinki, they realized this would be insufficient, but not in time to avoid spending $3 million to build a three-story Olympic administrative center on the UCLA campus in Westwood. The committee outgrew the Westwood office in a year and moved in the summer of 1983 to the converted helicopter plant in Culver City.
Michael O'Hara, who served first as vice president for sports and later in other capacities, said that a lot of the planning, such as that that led to the Westwood mistake, "was seat of the pants. The long range planning occurred in some areas, but in other areas it didn't occur at all."
But the point about the fundamental policies of the committee--close control from the top, leanness, information control--was that they weren't so much a matter of planning as of innate philosophy. They were the real underpinnings of the Los Angeles Games more than any planning of details.
William Hussey, a retired American diplomat and military officer, who played a key diplomatic role for the committee, observed: "One of the secrets of the success of the organization was Peter's keeping it small . . . Generally, from 1980 until 1983, we were less than 100 . . . At the same (comparative) times . . . Montreal had over 2,000 people on board. Korea also (three years before its Games) has hundreds and hundreds of people . . . Why was the leanness? Was it entirely fiscal or was it entirely a masochistic idea? I lean more to the fact that it was trial by fire. He was keeping it lean. He was keeping it small, so that he and Harry and others could be watching the production of the individuals, how they operated under stress."
The committee was, of course, not only lean in numbers of employees but, as Freund pointed out, in many of its operating styles. For example, very few secretaries were authorized. Staff members, even at fairly senior levels, were expected to do their own clerical work. Donna Fenchel, the director of the committee's travel office, remarked that "standing in line at the Xerox machine was a great leveler, because vice presidents and down were (there)."
In Fenchel's own area, the committee saved money by routing its traveling staff members circuitously in order to use United Airlines, an Olympics sponsor that, as part of its payment had given the committee a large travel credit. Staff members sent to New Orleans might accordingly go via Denver, because that was the only way they could go United. Even with such strategems, the United credit was never exhausted, and Ueberroth sought to get the remainder converted into cash.
Some staff members, in talking about the committee, used military terms, and Henry Durand, the Loyola Marymount University vice president who dealt with the committee on behalf of the university and became closely acquainted with it, said he felt the military analogy was an apt one.
Durand said: "The more I reflected upon the LAOOC, the more I saw them as a military organization, or a crisis-oriented organization. I know for a fact that one of the guiding philosophies of the management . . . (was) that they believed 80% of authority is taken and 20% is given, and they more or less saw the Games as their invasion, their jumpoff point . . . Sometimes I paralleled it to the D-Day invasion. I imagine Eisenhower's headquarters in London had a lot of similarities to the LAOOC. They had a target date. They had to have all these resources mobilized. They had to be very coordinated. They had a real specific mission and pretty much anyone who got in the way of that mission had to be dealt with somewhat like an adversary. And at times . . . they were very aggressive . . . The final objective was to take the beachhead, cover the country in glory, do it with the fewest number of casualties, in other words money lost, and to people to have said, 'God, wasn't that organization fantastic! Wasn't it great!' "
One thing that was commonly felt at the Olympic committee, and among its supporters outside, was that the committee was operating, right up almost until the Games began, in not merely an apathetic environment, but one that at times verged on hostility. Many Los Angelenos seemed to have great fears about how the Olympic effort would turn out and the press was not regarded as friendly.
Some of the Olympic staff confessed that they found the atmosphere unnerving and depressing. Gloria Conroy, an executive secretary and office manager, recalled that when she moved into the committee's new offices at UCLA in 1981 "all you'd hear (from outsiders was) . . . 'I'm going away (during the Games). I'm going on vacation.' . . . People anticipated the worst."
Fenchel said her own friends were opposed to the Olympics coming to the city. "The first thing they talked about was traffic congestion," she said. "There was talk, some talk, not a lot, about terrorism. It was all negative out there."
Security director Best recalled "a real cynical attitude on behalf of the Los Angeles population." He said he could count on one hand the people he met who were enthusiastic about the Games. With most, he found, there was at least apathy and often, as far as terrorism was concerned, even a "kind of a crack of doom." The question for many, he said, was not whether there would be terrorism, but what day it might occur.
Best, who formerly had headed FBI offices in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, speculated, "Maybe, it's the kind of citizen that we have in Los Angeles." But on reflection, he added, "I'm not sure it would have been any different in New York City. I think you would have found the same kind of cynicism in New York City."
Joel Rubenstein, later to become the committee's protocol director, but at first its marketing director charged with helping Ueberroth sell commercial sponsorships, said of the early days, "We weren't even chopped liver at that point in time. We didn't have the respect or recognition or acknowledgement of anybody."
When Rubenstein tried to sell one of the licensing arrangements that later turned out to be among the most lucrative, the one for Olympic pins, the local businessmen he approached initially suggested that he pay them to take on the project instead of them paying the Olympic committee.
Some of the employees, however, felt that, as secretary Vickie Putnam said, the committee was paranoid about the public attitudes and that they weren't really that bad. Anita de Frantz, who eventually became number two in the administration at the USC Olympic village, said she had never found people "really that antagonistic." And Rich Perelman, the press facilities chief, said that the public attitude ought to be understood in proportion.
"I don't think that things were hostile," he said. "I think it was more cautious than anything else. People see a fire and it's the Olympic flame and they want to be sure that it warms them and doesn't burn them."
There was a lot of cynicism among the staff about the press role. Peck Prior, who headed the committee's media operations from the fall of 1980 to the fall of 1981, when he quit for what he cited as reasons of bad health, observed, "The media inadvertently was a great asset. A great asset, because they scared the bejesus out of the people of Los Angeles, and they got out of town (during the Games) . . . Now, as a result of that, that helped tremendously (with the traffic)."
Committee architect Dan Stewart noted that the press concentration on the possibilities of an Olympic deficit, while seeming to him at the time to have a negative slant, actually may have had a positive effect on the committee. "It was that type of pressure to avert financial disaster that made it a financial success," he said.
Was it conceivable that, had the Games been put on publicly, they could have been as profitable as they turned out to be? Afterward, when Mayor Bradley was asked this question, his response was emphatic.
"No way. No way," he said. "There would have been political posturing from the outset. Every action would have been questioned by somebody . . . We had as much opposition from elected officials and government representatives as we did from anybody else, and so it would have been a political circus, because of the nature of our system of government here. So much is done in the open, so many opportunities for various elected officials, who for their own purposes would try to gain a little public exposure . . . It would have slowed up the process. It would have made it much more difficult to do the kind of things in the way of perhaps some arbitrary decisions that Peter and Harry often had to make."
Ueberroth agreed, saying: "I don't think it could have been put on by government. I think it would have failed. I think the jealousies, the political posturing, the city-by-city debates over what goes where. We had to make decisions much too fast to allow for the normal governmental process and we were criticized for that, but we had no choice . . . Early on, (for example), we had to decide to take basketball out of the Sports Arena (in Los Angeles) and put boxing (there) and move basketball out (to the Forum in Inglewood). We had to do it. It wasn't a choice. We didn't want to discuss it. If that had been left up to government bodies, that would have been debated for a long time."
Even police and civil servants who were inclined to resent Ueberroth and Usher's frequent suspicion and cavalier attitude toward government pretty much agreed that government could not have done it so well. Cmdr. William Rathburn, head of the Los Angeles Police Department's Olympic security unit, who frequently feuded with Ueberroth, readily acknowledged this.
"Government doesn't move fast enough to get a job done that's that big, and has an absolute deadline for completion," he said. "I think it would have been impossible to achieve the same kind of success, not only financially, but in a lot of other areas."
There was a great deal of pride at the committee that it was private. Just outside Ueberroth's office at headquarters, there was a framed quote from Winston Churchill: "Some see private enterprise as a predatory target to be shot, others as a cow to be milked, but few are those who see it as a sturdy horse pulling the wagon."
Ueberroth, then 41 years old, was selected president/general manager of the Olympic committee on March 26, 1979, at a closed- door meeting of the executive committee of the board of directors. Years later, some of the 17 members present on the occasion remembered it differently, but the minutes of the meeting show that the key vote was a procedural one and went 9 to 8 for Ueberroth, over Edwin W. Steidle, 58, then chairman of the board of May Co. Stores of California.
Steidle, according to some board members, probably would have won had he not had problems with May Co., a contract dispute over his desire to leave for the Olympic job and retain substantial May Co. compensation as well. His supporters sought a two-week delay in the proceedings so as to allow him to resolve the matter, and it was this delay that was rejected, 9 to 8. Ueberroth, however, a day or two before the vote told a reporter, in the most emphatic terms, that regardless of how the issue was posed between him and Steidle, he was going to win.
Some members say the decisive vote was cast by board member Rafer Johnson, an Olympic gold medal winner in the decathlon, who was later selected by Ueberroth to light the torch on opening day at the Coliseum. The board ended by deciding to make the formal vote for Ueberroth unanimous.
Earlier, the Olympic board and Korn-Ferry, the executive search firm it had retained to look for someone to direct the staff, had explored some big names, including Pete Rozelle, commissioner of the National Football League, and Gen. Alexander Haig, who was then a corporate executive. Others who were briefly candidates were Curt Gowdy, a network sports announcer, and Frank Dale, publisher of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.
Finally, the contest boiled down to Ueberroth and Steidle, who came from quite different backgrounds. Steidle had developed his career within a large corporation. Ueberroth was much more an individual entrepreneur. He had started his own company in his 20s and had built it up into the second largest travel firm in the country.
Ueberroth, born in Chicago, had a difficult childhood, his mother dying when he was only 5, his father an itinerant building products salesman. The middle of three children, by the time he enrolled in San Jose State College, he had attended six elementary schools and three high schools. He virtually paid his own way through college, holding jobs ranging from egg-size selector at a chicken farm to recreation director at a home for children from broken families. He also secured a partial athletic scholarship by playing water polo well enough to eventually try out for the U.S. Olympic team. In various contact sports, he had broken his nose several times.
After college, Ueberroth went to Hawaii with his bride, Ginny, and became associated with financier Kirk Kerkorian in a non-scheduled airline, Los Angeles Air Service. By the age of 22, he had moved to Los Angeles and become a vice president of the firm, although old friends remember its office as consisting only of Kerkorian, Ueberroth and a secretary.
In 1962, he founded First Travel. By the time he was named Olympic committee president, it had 650 employees in 134 offices, having weathered several recessions. Its main office was in a nondescript section of the San Fernando Valley, hardly a prestigious location.
Ueberroth, although active in the Young Presidents Organization, a worldwide group of corporate presidents under the age of 50, and the subject of a few business stories in magazines and newspapers, was virtually unknown to the public. He lived comfortably with his wife and four children in the San Fernando Valley and had a weekend home near Laguna Beach. A registered Republican, Ueberroth was supporting former Texas Gov. John B. Connally, for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination at the time he was selected. He was of youthful appearance, of medium height and build and, away from work, a casual dresser.
Argue, who turned out to be a key backer of Ueberroth in the contest for the Olympic post, told why years later.
"He fit," Argue said. "He was young, healthy, vigorous. He was an entrepreneur. He'd built up his own business and so he knew every department . . . He was heavy on negotiations. He knew accounting. He knew management. He had been down and dirty in every aspect of business, and that's a contrast with a typical vice president out of an aerospace firm . . . It had to be somebody that loved sports, knew something about them, had a feel for it . . . It had to be somebody who was a standup type person and could stand up to politicians, could stand up to the press, could stand up and relate to the IOC and the other sports organizations . . . He'd had a lot of experience in international negotiations . . . He had been to the Soviet Union by that time 15 times."
Another important supporter was David Wolper, who designed and put on the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Several years before, he had been involved in the formation of a professional volleyball league and he and his associates had tried to sell a franchise for San Jose to Ueberroth. Ueberroth came and listened, but then, as Wolper recalled, "started telling us what's wrong with our league and how we're wasting money and how to run the league . . . We said, 'Get the hell out of here.' "
The league went broke and when Ueberroth's name came up for the Olympics, Wolper remembered the incident. Wolper's secretary, Auriel Sanderson, said that when Ueberroth showed up at Wolper's offices at the Burbank Studios for an interview prior to the board vote, he was so nervous about seeing the television producer again that he turned his back on her, while waiting for him, his arms locked behind him and never said a word. But Wolper said he thought, from his prior contact, that Ueberroth was just what the committee needed.
"I said to the people in the meeting, 'That is the cheapest son of a bitch I know, but he will know how to operate this thing,' " he recalled.
In light of how it all turned out later, many of those involved had dramatic memories of their first meeting with Ueberroth. Selection committee member Howard Allen, who was then president and later became board chairman of Southern California Edison, recalled: "I initially was for the other guy. I didn't think any travel agent could run it . . . But after about 15 minutes of interviewing, I then spent two hours with him, and I was convinced that he could do it, because of all the qualities that he displayed . . . His intellect, his entrepreneurial spirit, his ability to organize, his insensitivity to some things, his sensitivity to others, his tough, driving personality, and his indifference to whether he got the job."
Allen said he had told Ueberroth "that if he got this job, he ought to run it as if he owned it, and he ought to only report to the board and use them on critical large policy issues." Ueberroth, he observed, when he became committee president "took me more literally than I meant it."
The apparent indifference as to whether he got the job that Allen noticed in Ueberroth was an old Ueberroth tactic. His longtime friend and business associate, Charlotte Hyde, said, "The old Peter I knew was the most fantastic salesman I ever met, because the more he wanted something, the less he showed it. He always plays it terribly cool."
And another associate of many years in the travel business, Michael Alford, said, "Peter's a master in underplaying . . . He presents himself as a modest graduate from a second rate university . . . someone who will lift anybody who he's with on a much higher pedestal than himself. (He) underplays himself totally and constantly with a very, very clear purpose in mind. That comes out very much later only when and if you have dealings with him."
Bradley remembered his first encounter with Ueberroth.
"It was his resume that I saw first, that impressed me and raised a question in my mind," the mayor said. "Why would a man who is so successful in his own business, one which he could literally run with his eyes closed, give up all of that to take on a difficult task, one which did not offer any assurance of success? . . . So I wanted to meet this man, who was willing to make that kind of change in his career . . . They scheduled a meeting with me, and indicated that if I said no, that they were not going to take him. We met. We chatted casually and the more I talked with him, the more I was impressed with him, and (when) we left that meeting, as far as I was concerned, he was my choice."
It's a little strange, because most of Bradley's closest friends on the board--including Ziffren, labor leader Bill Robertson, U.S. Circuit Court Judge Stephen Reinhardt, and the president of the city's Board of Public Works, Maureen Kindell--all reportedly backed Steidle and Reinhardt said he thought the mayor had supported him from afar. Ueberroth himself recalled that he had been told that "(Bradley) and people who would respond to his leadership were solidly with Steidle."
Steidle, even after the Games were over, was still convinced that were it not for his May Co. troubles, he would have been chosen.
"I think I had about 11 or 12 votes," he said, naming Allen among them. But when the May Co. objected to letting him go on his terms, he remembered it this way: "I talked to Ziffren over the weekend and I said, 'Look, they won't let me out of my contract.' But I said, 'It's like a football coach's contract. I can quit.' Well, Paul was very close to David May, and Paul, as you know, is a very honorable, reputable, staid guy, and he said, 'Oh, you can't break a contract.' . . . And then when I called (corporate headquarters in) St. Louis over the weekend . . . they said, 'Oh, no way. You just signed the new contract. We need you in L.A. We won't let you out' . . . When Robertson called me, I said, 'Bill, take my name out of the damned running.' "
After the vote, only Reinhardt seemed a little unhappy. He asked a reporter whether Ueberroth would be referred to in news reports as president or general manager. He said he thought president was a little presumptuous, because, actually, Ueberroth was not even a member of the board of directors, and he was more a staff manager than a president. Reinhardt was told that Ueberroth, at his request, would be referred to in the newspapers as president. The term general manager hardly ever was used with him again and it soon went to Usher.
Reinhardt replied--and as it turned out, quite accurately--that this name matter was important. In taking the title of president, Reinhardt said Ueberroth had moved a major step toward control.
Two days after his selection, Ueberroth called a news conference and declared he would run the Olympic committee "with a strong hand." As Argue later related, he lost little time in showing that he meant it.
"Peter, when he took over, it's hard to remember, but he didn't have any more authority than was given to him," Argue said. "He was on a rather short rein . . . So Peter went out and did his first sponsorship deal, with Coca Cola. Now, he's got a problem. He's done the deal, nobody's seen it, what's he do? So he came to me and I was vice chairman and I reviewed it and I signed it. Peter and I signed the first one. Peter and I signed the second one. Peter and I signed the third one, and I never saw another one, because . . . he had worked himself into a position by demonstrated success and people began to have confidence in him, and he was able to take control."
As noted by Loyola's vice president, Henry Durand, one of Ueberroth's favorite pieces of advice to the staff was: "Authority is 80% taken and 20% given."