Page last updated at 23:03 GMT, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 00:03 UK

From frontline to Olympic starting line

By Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News

Major Events International chie executive Dennis Mills
Mr Mills gained expertise at the 2008 Beijing games and other events

Former army officer Dennis Mills knows about challenges, having served in former trouble spots such as Bosnia and Northern Ireland.

But now he is facing a test of a different kind - helping British firms to win contracts for the forthcoming London 2012 Olympic Games and other sporting events.

There is strong competition for lucrative contracts, particularly from countries which have staged Olympic Games in recent years, such as Australia and China.

After leaving the Army, Mr Mills worked for defence and aerospace firm Thales, in charge of leading the company's security bid for the London 2012 Olympics.

He also worked for IT services company Atos Origin at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and on the firm's London 2012 account.

In these posts, he came to the conclusion that not enough was being done to bring major sporting events and potential suppliers together, so he launched Major Events International (MEI).

'Fantastic opportunity'

Mr Mills started MEI with £100,000 of his own money, with the idea of introducing "business expertise" and events organisers to one another in a "marketplace for buyers to meet suppliers".

Increasingly, the 2012 event is being seen as a problem, when we should be seeing it as an opportunity for business
Dennis Mills, Major Events International

The 53-year-old says that Australian firms have made at least $100m around sporting events since the 2000 Sydney Olympics, after selling themselves "as the only experts out there".

"And the Chinese firms that got contracts for Beijing want - on the back of that - to get business around London 2012.

"We need to reposition and promote UK firms so that they become the new experts and suppliers around sporting events.

"The 2012 Olympics in London is a fantastic opportunity for UK firms to start that process."

World Championships heptathalon gold winner Jessica Ennis
British firms as well as athletes can potentially win at London 2012

He adds: "Increasingly, the 2012 event is being seen as a problem, when we should be seeing it as an opportunity for business and the country as a whole."

Not surprisingly, given his background, security advice is a major part of what MEI can offer.

"For example, even things like selling ice cream or cleaning toilets at sporting venues need security-cleared people," he says.

"We can save people a lot of time by knocking on doors for both the organisers and firms that provide security-cleared people, and bringing the two sides together."

Wider investment

Where once Mr Mills commanded a regiment, he now has a team of five full-time members of staff, and 19 in total, under his command.

In addition to supporting firms, MEI can help cities formulate bids to hold events - from the initial hosting bid to the build phase, running the event and even "legacy" issues after the athletes have all gone home.

2010: Ryder Cup, Celtic Manor
2011: Champions League final, Wembley
2012: Olympic Games, London
2013: Rugby League World Cup
2014: Ryder Cup, Gleneagles
2014: Commonwealth Games, Glasgow
2015: Rugby World Cup
2019: Cricket World Cup

2018 Football World Cup

Along that timeline, from bidding to the closing event, there can be a lot of heartache, budget changes and swings in public opinion.

"Most nations pour money into the actual sporting event, but we are trying to drive business opportunities through the whole timeline - from cities being awarded events to the post-games phase."

"Many people would think the legacy of the London Olympics would be around the venues," says Mr Mills, "but that is only a very small part of it.

"It is about investment in infrastructure and business."

And while there are websites looking to provide UK firms with work in connection with the 2012 Games, Mr Mills points out that it is not just the Olympics that is coming to the UK.

Indeed, there is a host of other large sporting events on the UK horizon in a "golden decade of sport", including potentially the 2018 football World Cup, all of which - he says - offer major sports business opportunities.

'Huge value'

As an army officer for 20 years, he gained experience of managing people and major projects, such as introducing new radio systems.

That project management and security experience then took on a sports event aspect when he moved into industry.

"I got an insight at Thales about how to bid for a contract for major events, and at Atos Origin, I ran their London 2012 account.

Beijing 2007 games sign
Chinese firms will now be looking for 2012 Olympic contracts

"That involved providing infrastructure for the Olympic Delivery Authority at the Olympic Park and looking at security issues surrounding the 2012 infrastructure."

Mr Mills says he also has gained significant experience attending the Asian Games, the Pan-American Games, the Winter Olympics and the summer Olympics in Beijing last year.

"I have seen massive national transformations around sporting events, such as at the Asian Games in Doha in 2006, and which will happen around the Commonwealth Games in India next year," he says.

"The games bring huge value to the countries that stage them, and business can win huge contracts.

"It should be seen a more than merely a sporting event being hosted in a new venue."

2016 decision

Now he is eagerly awaiting the decision that will be taken in Copenhagen, Denmark, in early October to decide the venue of the 2016 Olympics.

The four bid cities are Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Madrid in Spain, Chicago in the US and Tokyo in Japan.

"We have just opened an office in Brazil, which is running a fantastic campaign and can leverage its hosting of the World Cup there in 2014 and the 2006 Pan American Games, " he says.

But he says that all the bids have their merits and, whoever wins, he says MEI will be looking to provide specialist expertise to the winning city, as well as providing a conduit for firms wanting to win 2016 contracts.

"Not many people have got experience of involvement with major events," he says.

"There needs to be a recognition that there is big opportunity for business that goes beyond just the immediate few weeks of a sporting event.

"But more needs to be done to bring bidding cities and business together, and I would like to think that this is where we have found a gap in the market."

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