Can Steve Pagliuca save Boston’s Olympic bid?
As Boston 2024 considers a roster change, you must be thinking what I’m thinking: Replacing one rich guy with another fixes things how?
Under a proposed leadership shuffle, Bain Capital executive and Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca would become chairman of the group organizing the region’s Olympic bid, while businessman John Fish would step down to be a vice chairman.
For those of you keeping score at home, I had wanted another rich guy, Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino, to take the helm to save the Boston Olympics. At least this gazillionaire has spent his career building sports teams and stadiums. Lucchino doesn’t want the top job but would come on board as a strategic adviser to Boston 2024.
Pagliuca is no Lucchino, but Fish could not stay if Boston wanted to remain in the race for the 2024 Summer Games. The Suffolk Construction Co. chief deserves a lot of credit for getting Boston the nod from the US Olympic Committee. He did it through sheer power of personality and persuasion, but that playbook hasn’t worked in the current phase of Boston 2024’s trying to win over the public.
Fish was unable to defuse criticisms about the Olympic process, ranging from the lack of transparency to concerns about cost overruns. Rather, he proved he is as adept at building controversies as he is skyscrapers.
So will Pagliuca be any different?
The biggest change is that these Olympics will not be about Steve Pagliuca. He favors collaboration over control. Notice that Pagliuca would arrive with a new team of advisers: Lucchino, Boston powerbroker Jack Connors, and Northeastern University athletic director Peter Roby.
Pagliuca, whom everyone calls Pags, revels being in the background. While Fish is always in a crisp suit and tie and ready for the spotlight, Pagliuca looks like a frumpy accountant. His wife had to buy him new suits when he ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2009.
“It is never about Steve. It is always about somebody else,” said Wyc Grousbeck, the principal owner of the Celtics, who counts Pagliuca as one of his closest friends.
In many ways, Pagliuca, 60, is the right person for what Boston 2024 needs to do next: hunker down to develop an Olympic plan everyone can live with. That means figuring out the locations of some 30 sporting events and where to build a stadium and an athletic village.
Pagliuca’s three decades at Bain Capital have prepared him for the role. As a private-equity guy, he is trained to parachute into underperforming organizations and turn them around. Mitt Romney first hired Pagliuca into the Bain consulting arm, where he became a star known for putting together complex financial deals while also possessing a common touch that enabled him to work with everyone, from the factory floor to the corner office.
When Romney started Bain Capital in the mid-1980s, Pagliuca was one of the early partners.
As a managing director at Bain, Pagliuca has helped lead dozens of buyouts, including multibillion-dollar acquisitions of Burger King and Hospital Corporation of America. He is known for spotting a big opportunity when everyone else underestimates the value.
Pagliuca took a similar approach when he and Grousbeck paid $360 million for the Celtics, which at the time set a record for an NBA franchise. The team had seen better days, but the two saw the potential of a comeback. It was Pagliuca who suggested to Grousbeck to bring in former Celtic Danny Ainge as the head of basketball operations. That changed everything and put the team on a championship run in 2008, after 22 years without raising a banner in the TD Garden.
In the Olympics, Pagliuca sees the possibility of how the Games could transform Boston.
“He believes these Olympics have a real chance to provide jobs for Boston, to provide housing and infrastructure,” Grousbeck said. “His mindset from the beginning of this Olympic effort is that this looks like potentially a great thing for Boston. That’s what drives him.”
In Pagliuca, Boston 2024 would tap a leader with a sports background, something the USOC found lacking in the existing leadership. Pagliuca would not be paid, and he would keep his day job.
I still think Lucchino would have been the best choice — perhaps after the Sox season ends, he will reconsider. But maybe organizing the Olympics is like running a relay race. Your leadoff sets the pace, the middle runners keep the momentum, and the anchor brings home the gold.
Passing the baton is never easy, but for Boston 2024 it can be the difference between winning and losing.