Yale to host conference at Olympics

While the Olympics have always featured 100 meter dashes and uneven bar routines, there will be a new fixture at the 2008 games in Beijing: the Yale Global Business Leadership Program.

The program — to be formally announced later this month — will host 400 senior officers from top companies worldwide and selected members of the Yale community, coordinators said Wednesday. University administrators said the panels and discussions led by Yale School of Management faculty as part of the program are meant to foster cooperative learning between top scholars and business leaders in the hopes of strengthening Yale’s relationships with Chinese and other corporations.

It is the first and only event of its kind ever to be held at the Olympics, said the program’s educational coordinator and curriculum designer, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld.

“It’s a chance to reach a kind of audience of business executives that would get to know the School of Management better,” University President Richard Levin said. “It’s a nice opportunity for our school to continue to get [exposure] in China.”

The program was proposed by Jet Set Sports, a sponsor and the official hospitality operator of the Olympics, said John Needham ’79, who has acted as a liaison between Jet Set Sports and his alma mater to organize the partnership.

He said he suggested to Jet Set Sports that their officials reach out to Yale as potential partner. The University’s strong reputation and long-standing relationship with China made it the ideal host for the program, Needham said.

He said the goal of the program is to allow participants to learn from Yale faculty and top business executives, as well as explore business opportunities in China.

“It taps into the interest in China, the interest in global business, and the interest in these historic Olympic games,” Needham said.

Participants will stay in deluxe rooms at JW Marriott Beijing, a five-star hotel opening this month. Cost of attendance is over $27,000, which includes premium-quality seating at preselected Olympics events but does not cover airfare. Still, the University does not expect to make a sizeable profit on this event, Needham said — instead, it is focused on furthering the University’s educational mission.

Among the early confirmed CEOs speaking at the program are Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast; Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP — the world’s largest advertising agency; and Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical Company. The chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Peter Ueberroth, will also serve as a guest speaker.

Six SOM faculty members will give presentations at the event, as will SOM dean Joel Podolny — showcasing the faculty’s expertise and depth of knowledge of global business issues, Sonnenfeld said.

Sonnenfeld is a SOM professor and senior associate dean of executive programs.

The program will consist of four identical five-day “waves” and will last the entire length of the games. During each wave, 100 participants will attend lectures from SOM faculty and CEO panels, focused on international business strategies, according to information on the program’s password-protected Web site.

Only 11 hours of each five-day “wave” are set aside for SOM sessions, the Web site indicates. Participants can spend the remaining time attending Olympic events, touring the Great Wall or relaxing in their luxury hotel, according to schedules posted on the Web site.

While formal marketing will not begin for about another month, Sonnenfeld said, he expects demand for the program to be “ravenous.”

Those who have already been informed of the program have had a very positive response, and it is likely that there will not be enough available places to meet demand, Needham said.

Among the first to receive invitations will be members of the Yale community, which includes alumni, parents and donors, he said. CEOs of multinational companies will then be notified, followed by other top executives and officials at companies that have global dealings with China, he said.

Chinese business executives will also attend and speak at the event.

“This will create an East-meets-West opportunity for business leaders from outside of China to meet their counterparts,” Needham said.

On the whole, Chinese officials have been very supportive of the program, he said.

“There’s a great deal of pride on the part of the Chinese people around the fact that China is hosting the Olympics,” Needham said. “The fact that an institution that enjoys the prestige that Yale does has chosen to commit itself to undertake this program will be greatly appreciated.”

Needham said Yale may hold similar events at future Olympic games if the program is a success.

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