Olympics: have london businesses dropped the ball?

Olympics business opportunities speed past.

With just days to go until the start of the Olympics, London is heading down the home straight. But as athletes settle into the Olympic village, many businesses and their employees have yet to begin their preparations.

London expects 5.3m visitors over the next few weeks. Already overstretched, the capital’s transport system could face nearly a million extra journeys per day. But despite repeated warnings of unprecedented disruption, a Populus poll commissioned by Global Action Plan has found that businesses nationwide are unprepared, with only a fraction putting in place contingency plans to avoid the expected commuter and delivery chaos. Just one in five employees say their company has a strategy for the transport of essential goods and services crucial to keep their business running. In London, only a quarter of employees say their business has plans to help them get to work.

How will companies and commuters cope? Worst case scenarios – involving people sleeping in offices – are perhaps not as unrealistic as first assumed, with several lines already closed for many hours before the Games have even started. Yet despite these travel difficulties the reality is that businesses are missing the opportunity offered by the Olympics to boost productivity, reduce costs, cut the damage they cause to the environment, and radically change travel and work patterns.

Telefonica O2 recently held a flexible working day at their head office to prepare for this summer’s disruption. Just 109 cars arrived in the car park that day compared to an average of 1,100. By taking so many cars off the road carbon emissions were cut by 12,500kgs. For staff, a survey found that 88 per cent of employees felt that they were as least as productive as normal on this flexible working day. A third felt they were more productive, with over half of respondents saying the time they spent commuting was used for working instead.

The Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for businesses to revolutionise the way they work and travel. Although the Olympic clock has reached its final countdown, it is not too late for businesses to prepare for the chaos. Our five point plan offers businesses clear, practical and simple steps they can take to avoid the chaos of the next few weeks and the longer term.And it’s not just the athletes at the Games that should compete. Offering prizes and providing quarterly feedback of miles travelled and carbon saved can foster a friendly spirit of competition and collective responsibility to reduce commuting and business travel.

It’s a win-win situation for both employers and employees, changing work and travel patterns for good. Even if plans are not put in place in time – the Olympics can be the catalyst to thinking about doing things differently.

12 years ago in Sydney, the Olympic Games resulted in 24 per cent of Sydney employees changing their working hours and 22 per cent worked remotely during the games. Replicated here, businesses can create a meaningful green Olympic legacy, not just in London but throughout the UK.

Have london businesses dropped the ball? Photograph, Getty Images

Trewin Restorik is the CEO of Global Action Plan.

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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit