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Bullock glad to see light at end of Oly tunnel

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It was about this time of year, three years ago, and Fraser Bullock can still remember what he first said when Mitt Romney called to see if he'd be interested in becoming chief operating officer for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee — in other words, would he ride shotgun on the Olympic rescue wagon?

"So you're looking for someone who's semisuicidal?" answered Fraser.

And he was only semikidding.

He can smile about it now, and so can we, because for one thing, he's still alive, and for another, it's three years later, the Olympics are three weeks away and Fraser Bullock, COO of SLOC, is able to sit back in his chair on the 14th floor at organizing headquarters and say, "We are absolutely confident we will break even. These Olympics won't cost the taxpayers of Utah a penny."

And who won't hoist a beverage to that?

Fraser elaborates that "breaking even" actually means having a $100 million surplus, since the state of Utah is due $59 million for building Olympic facilities and an additional $40 million for a legacy fund to operate them after the Games are over.

It's a far, far cry from the winter of 1998-99, when backwater from the Salt Lake bid scandal swamped the organizing committee into a $400 million deficit.

Real or imagined, the scandal took its toll, bringing about the call to Romney, a noted rescuer of troubled companies, and, in turn, Romney's call to Fraser.

Mitt and Fraser had become friends and business partners in Boston in the 1980s. When Mitt took over SLOC, one of the first messages on his voice mail was from his old pal Fraser, congratulating him on taking on such a noble cause.

At the time, Fraser was at his new home in Alpine, taking his first sustained break from a business career that shot off rocketlike almost instantaneously after he graduated with an MBA degree from BYU in 1980. His forte was an ability to come into failing companies, figure out what was wrong and fix it. Finding work hadn't been a problem. He and his wife, Jennifer, and their five children, Tiffany, Sabrina, Michael, Angela and David, had only recently moved to Utah, where Fraser was intent on making a serious attempt at scaling back.

When Mitt called him back, Fraser was trying to decide where to hang the hammock. His initial instinct was to decline the offer, particularly one with such a high degree of difficulty. But then Fraser's father, Evan, gave his son a pep talk about service.

The next thing he knew, his new partner Mitt was out raising Olympic money and Fraser was poring over a $1.6 billion budget, throwing out every soft dollar.

No department at SLOC was spared. No dollar ignored. As Fraser likes to say, "Everybody gave at the office."

Time flies when you're paying off interest. All of a sudden here it is 2002, on the eve of the Salt Lake Games, and virtually the entire Bullock family is up to its eyeballs in hosting the world. Two family members are SLOC volunteers and another is on the staff, along with Fraser, of course.

"It's been an absolutely wonderful life experience for all of us," says Fraser, who can hardly believe it will soon all be over.

Not that that's a problem either. "The best thing about this job is everybody gets fired," he says. Obviously, one eye is still on that hammock.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.