LEHI — When Mitt Romney phoned to invite Fraser Bullock to take on the task of managing the finances for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, Bullock couldn't think of a single good reason to accept the job.
"It took me two weeks and my father's urging before I said yes," Bullock said.
"I told him he needed someone who was semi-suicidal because the conditions were so bad," Bullock told a group of business people at a luncheon sponsored Thursday at Thanksgiving Point by the Utah Valley Entrepreneurial Forum and the MountainWest Venture Group.
Bullock was referring to the scandal over revelations that Salt Lake Olympic organizers gave more than $1 million in cash and gifts to International Olympic Committee members in a bid to be named host city of the Winter Games.
"Eighteen months ago, before I was asked to help, I was very much chagrined for Utah. I felt disappointed and ashamed and I said, "That's not us. That's not who we are."
Now, 16 months later, Bullock says he's having more fun than he ever expected and is anticipating an Olympic season that will set Utah apart as the world's home, especially since the "closest snake in the room" has been somewhat defanged.
"You know the adage about what you do when you find yourself in a room full of snakes? You kill the one that's closest? The budget was the closest snake."
Bullock said he spent his first 90 days examining every dollar of the $1.7 billion Games budget.
"It was really far worse than I'd imagined," he said. "The organization was literally paralyzed. A federal Justice Department investigation had been launched. There was a complete lack of public confidence. Morale? There was none.
"There were more serious financial issues than had been disclosed."
Bullock said a $400 million budget deficit loomed with only $13 million raised before the scandal.
"Once inside the organization, I found there was no Games-time operation plan nor a process to put one into place for a time when we'll have 70,000 people working for us and 41 functions to perform.
"The financial system was useless. There existed an incredible number of layers of management that fostered internal bickering. We had no Paralympics leadership.
"And that's what I didn't know," Bullock said.
He and others on the committee went about addressing problems that included flattening the structure, replacing people who didn't fit and hiring new people for key positions, setting up clear objectives and demanding accountability from those in the organization.
Now Bullock believes the "closest snake" is the actual task of putting the operation in place during "the world's most intense operation over 17 days."
"We have restored faith. The budget is now achievable. We have a complete management team in place and the morale is very high. The Games are back on track," he said.
"We still have to put it together, of course. It's still a huge, huge, task."
But now Bullock worries more about the weather and public safety than about the bottom line.
"I hope we don't have a wacko come in and set off a bomb, and we don't want warm weather. We want cold weather because we can make snow if it's cold. If it's warm, that's a problem."
Bullock said he's hoping, along with the rest of the committee, to thoroughly engage Utahns in the Games both as volunteers and as spectators to test events and the actual competitions.
"I really believe this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to present Utah in a positive manner.
"I want the world to feel something different here. I want them to come here and say, 'I felt I was home in Utah.'"