Mixing sports with business: corporate honchos head to Beijing Olympics

The number of chief executives who are planning to make their presence felt at the Beijing Olympic Games is likely to rival the number at the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland that often attracts over 1,000 business leaders.

Lured by the increasing importance of the Chinese market and the opportunity to help Beijing in celebrating its biggest international event yet, the corporate honchos are heading to Beijing. No surprise, tickets for the Olympics opening ceremony are going for $50,000 in the gray market.

Indicating the interesting trend, a report in the Wall Street Journal mentions that in addition to thousands of athletes, over 80 heads of state and close to 30,000 members of the media, another group that is expected to invade Beijing in full force for the Olympics is corporate executives! The report quotes chief executive of advertising conglomerate WPP Group PLC Sir Martin Sorrell as saying: “You could call it a sporting Davos. It goes beyond just a wonderful sporting occasion. There are political and economic implications.”

In fact, many executives perceive the Olympics as a must event for firms that do business in China, or hope to. Bill Gates is set to attend, for example, as is Rick Wagoner, General Motors Corp. CEO. Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries, India’s largest business house is also said to be heading for Beijing. Few other leading industrialists are likely to follow suit.

Among prominent global CEOs expected to attend the Games are Blackstone Group LP’s Stephen Schwarzman; BP PLC’s Tony Hayward Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s H. Lee Scott Jr. and Terry Leahy, of Tesco PLC; Motorola Inc.’s Greg Brown; News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch, and. Yahoo Inc. CEO Jerry Yang may also be there. Randall Stephenson, the AT&T Inc. CEO, plans meetings with customers, partners and employees in Beijing.

The top executives of dozens of Olympics sponsor firms, including Volkswagen AG’s Martin Winterkorn and McDonald’s Corp.’s Jim Skinner are also going to be there. Many of these firms will hold board meetings in Beijing. The Olympics is looking more like a corporate meet than a sporting spectacle!

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