[Alumni Story] Kathleen VOGE, behind the scenes at the Olympics!

In July 2020, Kathleen VOGE’s best friend drew her attention to a rather unusual job offer and advised her to try her luck. The job was to join the organising team for the 2024 Paris Olympics! As she prepared for her interview, Kathleen (who graduated the Grande École Program in 2017) discovered an exciting project, which matched her skill set: creativity, high standards and communication. Without really believing it might happen, she sent in her application and landed the job. Three years later, and feeling particularly proud to be a part of this people-oriented and historic challenge, she takes us behind the scenes at an event that will welcome 13.5 million spectators, 206 nations and nearly 15,000 athletes when it begins on July 26.

What made you want to join the team organising the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games?

Probably the fact that it’s a project unlike any other: it starts from nothing, ends on a specific date and then disappears. All that remains are memories and shared moments. To be part of this experience and to work in such a role is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Over the past three years, I’ve been particularly struck by the growth in the size of our team, which speaks volumes about the scale and stakes of the event: in 2021 there were 400 of us, during the Games we will be a team of more than 4,000…

What positions have you held since you started in January 2021?

I started in the Planning and Coordination department, where I was in charge of monitoring various milestones for the Operations Departments. I had to make sure that everything was progressing at the right pace and ensure that, in the event of delays, any hold-ups or risks were kept to the right level. This 360-degree vision enabled me to gain an understanding of all the dealings and challenges faced by each of the people I was interacting with.
Since February 2023, I’ve been Coordinator for the Paris Centre zone, which includes iconic sites such as the Place de la Concorde, the Grand Palais, Pont Alexandre III, the Invalides, the Champ de Mars, the Eiffel Tower, the Trocadéro and the Hôtel de Ville, as well as the two opening ceremonies and road events such as the marathon. My role remains broadly the same, but on a more operational scale, as I support the site teams with planning, tasks to be carried out, identifying and monitoring risks, etc. I have two people reporting to me, and the Paris Centre zone currently employs just over 200 people.

What have been the main phases in the committee’s day-to-day work over the past few years? How far have you got?

The starting point was defining a strategy with an overall vision and principle objectives. Then came the planning phase, in which these objectives were broken down into several sub-projects, with deadlines to be met. The planning phase was the longest, as we went into great detail.
Since summer 2023, we’ve been in a “readiness” phase, where we’ve been training each team to be ready for D-day. This involves full-scale tests, simulation exercises and lots of training. Running in parallel, there’s the delivery phase with building and installation. The next stage will of course be the launch of the Games on July 26, and then the final one: the dissolution of the committee.

What will be the biggest challenge?

In my area, certainly the construction of the sites, since nothing existed. The city will be transformed little by little, the daily lives of local residents will be affected, and our main collective challenge will be to win their acceptance of the project. We’ll need to do a great deal of education and communication work to make sure this event is not just an inconvenience, but a great festival for the people that brings communities together, something we all need right now.

How do you deal with the pressure of such high stakes?

It’s a daily challenge – striking the right balance between what’s urgent and what’s essential, as well as taking a step back when everything is moving so fast. Fortunately, we are surrounded by people who have already worked on other major events: their experience is invaluable. Of course, the workload is huge and the pace is fast, but I feel carried along by the collective dynamic and the passion that drives us all. Even so, I’m careful not to get too caught up in it, and to set myself limits so as to maintain a work-life balance. I can’t start the Games feeling exhausted!

Une partie des diplômés IÉSEG, membres de l’équipe organisatrice :
Kathleen Voge, Eleonore Vassy, Emma Quemener, Maximilien Krebs,
Alice Ribadeau Dumas, Elise Lauro, Juliette Le Meur, Alexandre Vix,
Alice Monthuir et Hugo Jumez.

Organising also means anticipating risks. What risks have you identified and how do you respond to them?

These concern a variety of issues such as extreme temperatures in the event of a heatwave and the impact on our various populations (spectators, athletes, workforce, etc.), security during the ceremonies and competitions, and cyber-attacks, of which we have already been a target.
Each of these risks has been identified months or even years ago, and we are working tirelessly to ensure that the probability of them occurring is as close to zero as possible. In particular, we are preparing contingency plans, outlining responses to be made and the steps to be taken. We rehearse them regularly so that they become reflexes and automatic on D-day, should the need arise.

How are you taking into account sustainable development issues, which are becoming increasingly important to the general public?

Unlike in previous Olympic Games, we’re only building two new venues and the Village. 95% of the Paris 2024 venues are already in existence or will be temporary. As many of them as possible will be equipped with water fountains, and we’re halving the use of single-use plastic. You might not realise it, but most of the measures we’re putting in place are a first. We don’t claim to be perfect, but we hope to point the way to even higher standards in the future.

What has been your most vivid memory of the last three years?

Unquestionably, last summer’s full-scale test events at the Triathlon World Cup, with the world’s finest athletes. The pressure was enormous, and we sometimes scared ourselves, but we achieved our objectives, with a real sense of shared pride. This success reassured everyone and enabled us to take stock of what we still had to work on with a year to go.
In this context, IÉSEG’s training was a huge help to me: the adaptability I had learned from my experiences abroad, as well as the many internships I did in companies – gradually increasing in importance over the years – has taught me to feel at ease in very different situations and with very different people.

Career path

Kathleen’s executive internships in finance made her realise that she preferred a more general role.
She then turned to consulting before joining ADECCO in 2017.
For three years, she held the position of Project Manager Officer in the strategy and transformation department.
In January 2021, she joined the Paris 2024 Olympic Games organising team. She is currently Cluster Coordinator for Paris Centre.

This article was written by Luna Créations for IÉSEG Network’s magazine, IÉS #18.

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