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During a Jan. 9 visit, Aon founder and executive chairman Patrick G. Ryan '59 spoke to Kellogg EMBA students about Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. Ryan is chairman and CEO of the city's Olympic Evaluation Committee.

Patrick Ryan ’59 discusses Chicago’s quest for Olympic gold

During address to Kellogg EMBA students, Aon founder reveals entrepreneurial angle to city’s bid

By Adrienne Murrill

1/10/2008 - The pinnacle of any athlete’s career is to compete in the Olympic Games, but arriving there takes patience, practice, determination and hard work. The same holds true for the city of Chicago, as it races against other potential sites in its bid to host the marquee 2016 sporting event.

How it plans to win that bid was the subject of a presentation by Patrick Ryan, chairman of the Chicago 2016 Olympic Bid Committee, to Kellogg executive MBA students at the James L. Allen Center on Jan. 9.

Ryan, a 1959 Kellogg graduate and the founder and executive chairman of Aon Corp., visited campus following a meeting earlier this week with President George W. Bush in support of the city’s bid. Ryan said that Chicago, which is competing against the likes of Madrid, Prague and Tokyo, has a proposal that is deeply rooted in Midwestern values.

“We really believe we have a unique opportunity because Chicago is a unique city,” Ryan said. He cited Chicagoans’ love of sports and of the city’s lakefront as important aspects of the bid. Should the Windy City be chosen as the 2016 games host, these passions will create the most athlete-centric games in history, Ryan said.

Chicago’s bid includes a plan to make the most of its lakefront, including capitalizing on its proximity to the city center, by building an Olympic village near McCormick Place and a state-of-the-art aquatics center on the South Side. The plans also call for repurposing Soldier Field for races and the Olympics’ opening and closing ceremonies. Both the housing area and the aquatics center are intended to produce enduring utility in nearby communities even after the games conclude, said Ryan.

Ryan called the bidding process a marathon, rather than a sprint. “You have to pace yourself,” he said. The race started in February 2006, and Chicago achieved the first round by winning the domestic bid last April. In October 2009, the International Olympic Committee will make its final decision about who will host the games.

In addition to explaining the committee’s next steps, Ryan spoke about the Chicago 2016 logo and the support the city has received from area business leaders, much of which has been pro-bono. “I’ve been in business 40 years here in Chicago and I’ve never seen the city as bonded as it is.”

He compared his work with the committee to his entrepreneurial experience as the founder and executive director of Aon Corp., which began as a five-person insurance agency in 1965 and today boasts more than 500 offices in 120 countries.

“It’s just the dream when you begin but you have no idea where it’s going to take you,” said the Kellogg graduate. “You learn on the job.”

The executive students in attendance at Ryan’s talk represented the joint-degree Kellogg-Schulich MBA Program (KS-06) based in Toronto, as well as the Kellogg-Miami Program (EMP-71) and the Evanston-based North American Program (EMP-72). The 160 executive students were on campus to participate in the school’s International Live-In Week, which includes the Negotiation Strategies and Strategic Crisis Management courses.

Bernadette Birt, director of the domestic executive MBA programs, said Ryan sets the standard for remaining an active contributor to Northwestern University. Ryan was a longtime chairman of the Kellogg Advisory Board and now chairs Northwestern’s Board of Trustees.

“His dedication to Kellogg reminds our students that they will go on to reach even greater heights and that as an active member of this network, they will be called on to bring outstanding content back into the classroom,” Birt said. “This network continues to distinguish Kellogg and creates a tremendously impactful group of alumni.”