They filed in quietly, one by one, to the first two rows of chairs facing the stage at the Boston 2024 press conference Friday. The lawyer. The private equity chief. The architect.
They’re some of the brightest and busiest in their respective fields — Bob Popeo, Steve Pagliuca, and David Manfredi. They are just three from a much larger cast of the city’s industry titans who came together to pull off what many people in Boston once thought was impossible.
The show of force over the last year made an impression on the US Olympic Committee, whose chief executive said its decision to pick Boston over three rival cities was related in large part to the deep, interlocking involvement of the city’s business and political leaders. Some view these ties and see a provincial New England town, often too incestuous for its own good. But USOC members saw a way to get things done.
There are many reasons why Boston’s business leaders came to the table. The fortunes of their companies and institutions and those of the city are inextricably linked — a successful Olympics could promote the Boston brand like nothing else. Some see potential profits down the line. Some, however, have made their money — now they’re looking to solidify their legacies, to make their lasting mark on the city they love.
“This is an opportunity now to work on the most important sporting event in the world,” said Dan O’Connell, the president of the Boston 2024 Partnership. “It’s sport as a language of peace, a language of diplomacy.”
To understand how the business community rallied together, you have to go back to the fall of 2012 when two strangers met for drinks at the Omni Parker House. Eric Reddy had just turned 30 and was working for a now-closed startup that distributed corporate tickets for sporting events. Corey Dinopoulos was a 27-year-old digital designer for Fidelity Investments.
They were young and not particularly well-known in the city. But they had a shared vision: It’s time to bring the Summer Games back to the United States, and, more importantly, to Boston. So then-Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s tourism director suggested they talk.
Reddy and Dinopoulos created a nonprofit to help investigate an Olympic bid. But few took this effort seriously — until O’Connell, then the president of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, and Suffolk Construction chief executive John Fish came along.
After Dinopoulos persuaded state Senator Eileen Donoghue to file a bill at the State House that would create a commission to study a Boston Olympics, Donoghue drew O’Connell into the discussion to gauge the business community’s potential support.
O’Connell took the idea to the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, a group of executives that meets regularly to tackle civic issues. Fish, the group’s then-chairman, had initially been a skeptic but began to see the Olympics as a way to leave a larger legacy for the region than anything his company could create. More importantly, he saw a way to pull it off: by reaching out to his vast network within Boston’s business elite.
“He was very persuasive in terms of talking to other businesspeople about why this would be good for the state, why it would be good for the whole economy,” Donoghue said. “Almost all of them probably came at it with a healthy dose of skepticism at first.”
The first to join Fish in the crusade were colleagues on the Partnership board, people like Patriots owner Bob Kraft and Putnam Investments chief executive Bob Reynolds; they launched a new nonprofit to bid for the 2024 Summer Games. Reddy and Dinopoulos let the newcomers lead the way, overjoyed to watch their idea get hijacked by some of the city’s wealthiest business leaders. Eventually, the Partnership let O’Connell spend much of his paid time on the Boston Olympics bid.
“The biggest feeling I had was just relief — ‘Wow, this is actually possible. It’s not just a small group of us that feels this way,’ ” said Reddy, who now works at a Cambridge-based auction website for charities.
Fish and O’Connell worked the phones to bring in other executives.
They branched out to include the colleges and universities, where most of the 2024 events would take place. The Summer Games would depend heavily on billions of dollars of already planned public transportation investments but also on major capital projects by the schools.
Bentley University president Gloria Larson, already a familiar face in Boston’s business community, would take a lead in bringing the universities together. The Olympics, local organizers say, would be a prime opportunity to attract donations and draw students to the participating schools, building their international profiles.
The circle kept getting wider. More executives wanted in on the action, including those such as State Street’s Jay Hooley and Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ Jeffrey Leiden whose companies don’t appear to have a potential gain from an Olympics effort.
Others offered their services directly to Boston 2024 for free or at discounted rates, O’Connell said. Popeo, for example, has worked pro bono, and his law firm, Mintz Levin, contributed more than 1,000 hours of what would otherwise be billable time. Ad agency Hill Holliday is behind much of the marketing work and has only accepted payment for work done by outside contractors. David Manfredi’s architectural firm, Elkus Manfredi, provided reduced rates on planning, with Manfredi himself working for free, O’Connell said.
O’Connell downplays the money-making opportunities when asked what’s motivating these executives to come to the table. Instead, he points to the international profile that the city and its leaders would get from playing on a world stage, and the feel-good enthusiasm that would come from bringing together disparate countries for a common goal.
“It’s what the Olympics could mean for our city,” O’Connell said. “There’s nothing like it. I know of no other event, sporting or otherwise, that comes close to pulling at people the way the Games do.”
After all, each of these business executives share something with Dinopoulos and Reddy, the guys who got this whole thing started. At some point, they were all young visionaries, wondering how they could make their mark.