LONDON – Aug. 10, 2012– Rumor has it that the basketball arena – dubbed the Marshmallow because of its soft, spongy white appearance – in London’s Olympic Park will be disassembled and shipped to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics.
If that’s true, then don’t be surprised if Union University alumnus Gunnar Adalberth is involved in the process.
Adalberth, a 1987 Union grad, is serving as director of business development for United Parcel Service for the London 2012 Olympics. UPS serves as a local sponsor for the London Olympics and is handling all the logistics for the Games – which totals about 30 million items.
A gold medal? That’s one item. A hurdle? That’s another one. Balance beams, volleyballs, trampolines – you name it, and UPS has managed it.
“It’s actually the largest logistics event in the world, if you take out the wars,” Adalberth said. “If you take the Olympic venue and turn it upside down, everything that sort of falls out, that’s what we manage.”
Adalberth is based in the Canary Wharf area of London, one of the city’s main business districts with about 100,000 workers. The UPS office there is located in the headquarters of the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
UPS partners with LOCOG, a temporary organization with 7,000 employees and 70,000 volunteers, as the official logistics and delivery supporter for the Games.
UPS’ Olympic involvement began in Atlanta in 1996, when the company signed up to be global worldwide partners with the Olympics. As a global sponsor, the UPS brand could be associated with the Olympic brand any way the company wanted globally.
The global sponsorship continued in Nagano, Japan, in 1998 and Sydney, Australia, in 2000, as UPS sought to increase its global brand awareness.
“We’ve always been very known in the United States,” Adalberth said. “But outside of the United States it’s not as well known.”
Following some bribery scandals with the International Olympic Committee, however, UPS decided to discontinue its Olympic sponsorship for a few years. With Beijing in 2008, the company decided to get back in, not as a global partner, but as a local sponsor. That meant UPS had branding rights with its logo and the Olympic logo only in China.
UPS provided logistical support for the 2008 Olympics free of charge, in an attempt to increase its brand awareness in China. The strategy worked. Prior to the Olympics, Adalberth said surveys indicated UPS had only 13 percent brand awareness in the country. After the Olympics, that figure had risen to 45 percent.
“We felt like that was a good investment by being the Olympic sponsor,” Adalberth said. “We did a nice job, and we enjoyed it.”
As preparations were underway for the Olympics in London, LOCOG contacted UPS about providing similar services in 2012. UPS agreed.
But providing such services free of charge, or “in kind,” is a costly venture, and UPS decided it wanted to use the Olympics in London not only to improve brand awareness, but also gain additional revenues. That’s where Adalberth comes in.
“My role is to get a return on investment,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. My goal, my specific measureable objective, is to gain additional revenues from existing clients and from new clients due to our Olympic sponsorship.”
Adalberth networks with about 50 other Olympic sponsors in the UK, along with various other organizations that need to ship goods, such as broadcasting companies and 205 national Olympic committees. He signed up Ralph Lauren, who designed the uniforms for U.S. athletes and used UPS to ship those uniforms to London.
Appointed in November 2009 to his position, Adalberth is a one-man show in London. Though UPS has about 1,100 employees there for the Olympics, none of them reports directly to Adalberth. But he does have access to UPS’ entire sales force worldwide as he works to increase the company’s revenues.
His days are spent on conference calls with sales people or customers worldwide. He hosts dinners for customers when they’re in London, or meets them at logistics forums that UPS holds, where customers can come and listen to various speakers.
“It’s a wonderful assignment,” Adalberth said. “What I enjoy most about it is networking and the people that you meet. I’ve been able to network with so many interesting companies, organizations, interesting people. I’ve learned a lot about how an Olympic Games are organized.”
Originally from Sweden, Adalberth came to Covington, Tenn., during high school as an exchange student. While in Covington, he drew the attention of Union University, which offered him a tennis scholarship. Adalberth accepted the offer and became an All-American in tennis at Union while majoring in economics and finance.
His time at Union made a permanent impact.
“The environment at the university taught me to be disciplined and focused,” Adalberth said. “I was playing tennis at the same time as I was studying. If you want to get A’s and play tennis a lot, there’s only 24 hours a day. It caused me to be focused, to be disciplined, and achieve the goals.”
He credits Howard Newell and Walton Padelford, his economics and business professors, with preparing him well academically. But most importantly, Union left a lasting spiritual legacy with Adalberth.
“I became a born-again Christian,” he said. “I got salvation through Jesus Christ, and I experienced that my first year at Union.”
The winner of the Tigrett Award, given to an outstanding member of the senior class, in 1987, Adalberth went on to get a Master of Business Administration degree at Vanderbilt University.
Adalberth has been with UPS for 22 years in a variety of roles in five different countries. As his work in London draws to a close in the weeks ahead, he’s unsure what his next assignment with the company will be. He could do something similar in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the 2016 Olympics, or he could be involved with the integration process of a European company called TNT that UPS recently purchased.
“I think I’ve got the best job in the world,” Adalberth said. “It can’t be better.”