How I Got The Job- Jeff Ruffolo

By Community | March 21, 2012

When people ask me how I got the job, I usually reply that I groveled. Without kneepads.

I have no problem groveling to the Communist Chinese that run the international sports programs of The People’s Republic of China – in fact as an American living and working here – I am considered less than nothing to the all-encompassing power that is the Chinese Government and Chinese Communist Party.

Specifically I am speaking of how I became the Senior Expert in Media and Communications for the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad and the only American in senior management for what was to become the greatest Olympics of the modern age.

Being a three-time Summer Olympic Sportscaster for Westwood One Radio (America’s largest network with some 7,000 radio station affiliates), I arrogantly believed there would be “no problem” landing a senior communications position with the Chinese Olympic Organizers when I paid a visit to the BOCOG offices during the winter of 2004. Because of my extensive Games-time experience as an accredited Olympic radio commentator at the 1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Olympics (as America’s radio “voice” of indoor and beach volleyball), I knew exactly what the Games were all about; the Chinese (at the time) could only read about it in books.

Through a Chinese BOCOG contact that I made during the Athens Games, I landed an appointment with the Head of Media and Communications for the Organizing Committee and traveled to Beijing in November 2004 during one of the nastiest winters God ever bestowed onto this ancient capital city.

I was full of hubris, with an inflated ego, and felt the only thing I believed left for the Olympic Organizers to decide was if I was to have a corner office or a window view looking out over The Forbidden City. I was a narcissistic American “peacock”, full of piss and vinegar and wanted the Chinese to know that I was vastly superior to them in all ways Olympic.

What I didn’t realize was that peacocks, as lovely as they are, get eaten in China and I was minutes away from having my head on the chopping block.

I arrived exactly on time at the temporary offices of BOCOG (located within a downtown bank) and was instantly whisked away to a lavish office. There, I turned on my PowerPoint presentation and wearing my best suit and tie, patiently waited for the Chinese official to arrive. True to form, he came in 15 minutes late and after a customary greeting and exchanging business cards (always with two hands with my Chinese text version facing up), I began my presentation.

Some eight minutes later, the man looked at his watch, stood up, said he had another meeting to attend and walked out … and just like that, I was kicked out of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Committee.

Six minutes later, I was standing on a street curb with my laptop in hand.

It was incredibly cold as I frantically tried to flag down a taxi.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it started to rain.

In buckets.

Then and there I was determined to show the Chinese that I was made of sterner stuff.

That’s more of my ego talking.

For the next two and a half years, I spent more than $25,000 on airline tickets and hotel expenses and pestered the Chinese Olympic Organizers during 11 more meetings.

I even came up with an idea to light the Olympic Cauldron during the Opening Ceremonies; Yao Min would throw a flaming basketball into the mouth of an animatronic 40-foot tall dragon that would then shot-put a fireball into the cauldron.

They didn’t like it and I can understand why.

From my “western” perspective, I thought that BOCOG officials were just tired of seeing my face in their office and eventually decided to hire me just to shut me up. In reality the Chinese officials took their time to see if I was truly and sincerely interested in being part of their senior staff.  So it took two years?  What is time in a nation that can trace its origin back 2,000 years? More important – I learned great lessons about humility. It was not the Chinese that had to change – I had to.

I grew to understand and appreciate the “Chinese way” of doing business. It took those two years for me to throw away my pride, my ego and become a new person. When you are an American working for a Chinese organization, you must become humble, contrite and work without guile. This is the person I am today.

Prior to joining BOCOG, I had spent the previous nine years as the Senior Advisor for global PR for China Southern Airlines in Guangzhou, China’s largest airline. I continually drew back upon my experiences on how to behave and how to be appropriate as a foreigner (which means keeping my mouth shut and my opinions to myself) within a corporate Chinese hierarchy and state-owned enterprise.

And without being overly boastful, I do possess solid English linguistical and journalists skills, honed over decades of chasing down wayward ambulances.

So, on March 15, 2007, I moved to Beijing and began working, full time, as the first foreigner and only American to work in senior management for BOCOG. But I did so by paying a high price.  I left behind in California, my wife, my 12 year old daughter, gave my golden retriever to my brother in Montana and put my classic 1965 P1800 Volvo sports car on blocks.

I came to Beijing with two suitcases of clothes. Nothing more.

Initially I was hired as the English Editor for the monthly Beijing 2008 Magazine, but contracts and job titles mean nothing here.  Once the word got out in the 27-story BOCOG HQ that I was working for the Media and Communications Department, (and more than a little jabbing from my end), the work piled on.  I loved it all and always asked for more. I re-wrote every English press release given to the world media and worked every press event organized by BOCOG including the international media presentation of the Water Cube, Olympic Village, Wukesong Baseball and Basketball arenas.

By the time the Olympic Games arrived in the Summer of ’08, I was working tirelessly for six BOCOG departments (besides my own work load) and became the de-facto international TV spokesman for the Beijing Olympics.

One of the greatest honors that China could bestow came August 7, 2008, the day before the Opening Ceremonies. Madame Wang Hui, head of all PR for the Beijing Olympics, came to me and asked that edit the English briefing book of the Opening Ceremonies that was to be presented to the international journalists at the Bird’s Nest the following evening. What an honor.

This book represented the culmination of seven years of work by the Olympic organizers and I had the final say of what was printed. I could have changed the English to just about anything. But of course I would not do that and was deeply humbled that I would be given this task.

I was even allowed to re-write the English speeches of the leaders of the Chinese Government … all this coming from a Republican from Orange County, California.

Eventually, I earned my place as a trusted advisor at the highest levels of the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee and Chinese Government. I would never knowingly do anything to harm, hurt or cause by action against the Chinese people and I am, in so many ways, so much of a better man that walked into the BOCOG offices that frigid November morning so long ago.

After the Olympics ended, I received an award from the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee for my training of China’s senior Olympic management team … and then invited by the Chinese Government to Guangzhou (in South China) where I held the position of Executive Advisor for Media and Communications for The 16th Asian Games.

So, here are some words of wisdom from one who has seen and done just about everything in China:

– Never give up.

– Don’t take yourself too serious.

– Remember to be humble, contrite and without guile, and

– Don’t forget what happens to peacocks!

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Jeff Ruffolo is currently Press Officer for the 2012 Fed Cup in Shenzhen, China. His previous roles have included: International Media Manager for the Qatar Local Organizing Committee, 2011 AFC Asian Cup; Chief Communications Officer for the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games and Senior Media Expert for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2008 Olympic Games (BOCOG). He is a three-time Summer Olympic Sportscaster for Westwood One at the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games. Ruffolo is currently writing a ‘behind the scenes’ book about his experiences with BOCOG titled ‘Inside the Beijing Olympics’.

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