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‘Extraordinary job’ for summit by host committee executive director

Lori Healey April | John H. White~Sun-Times

Lori Healey, in April | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 6, 2012 12:40PM

Lori Healey knows what it’s like to fall off a horse, dust herself off, get back in the saddle and ride to glory.

She has done it — literally ­ — falling off her sneezing horse during an equestrian competition a few years ago. Now, she has done it figuratively — by orchestrating a successful NATO Summit two years after serving as president of the 2016 Olympic Committee during Chicago’s embarrassing first-round flameout.

Suspicious and distrustful of the news media now more than ever, Healey, 52, didn’t want to talk about the pivotal role she played as the Sir George Solti of the summit, otherwise known as executive director of the NATO Host Committee.

But Michael Sacks, the mayoral confidant and vice chairman of World Business Chicago, who recruited Healey for the NATO job, was more than willing to sing her praises.

“It was clear to the mayor and his whole team that Lori had the capability and experience to excel. It is clear from her flawless execution that they were right. Lori did an extraordinary job,” Sacks said in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times. Sacks is also an investor in and board member of Wrapports LLC, which owns the Sun-Times.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Chicago “took the global stage and performed wonderfully,” in large part because of the “dynamic leadership” that Healey provided.

Healey was drafted into her latest role as government savior after previous executive director Leslie Fox quit in a huff after a policy dispute. When Sacks called out of the blue, Healey was working as a principal at the John Buck Co., where she landed after the Olympic debacle.

After Buck agreed to grant her leave and donate her salary, Healey embraced the challenge as only she can — and never wavered even after President Barack Obama’s surprise decision to move the G-8 summit from Chicago to Camp David.

She helped raise $36.5 million from corporate donors; reassured a skittish business community, and scolded the news media forwhat she called its gloom-and-doom comparisons to the 1999 World Trade Organization debacle in Seattle.

Using skills honed as former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s chief of staff, planning commissioner and vice chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority, she helped identify $19.1 million in federal security grants, coordinated with the State Department and all other levels of government and held hands with the consular corps.

She flashed her party-planning skills at the McCormick Place summit venue — right down to the goody bags distributed to world leaders and the international media — and accompanied Emanuel’s wife,

Amy Rule, on a trip to Brussels to showcase Chicago and its culinary and cultural offerings to NATO officials.

Rita Athas, president of World Business Chicago, said Healey’s no-nonsense, cut-to-the-chase approach was precisely what was needed to pull off an “extremely complicated” event that had the potential to be a disaster for Chicago.

“The thing with Lori is she always retains her cool. It was a very short timeframe. There were a lot of moving pieces. We were fortunate to have her,” Athas said. “She’s extremely focused. She has superior organizational skills. She’s able to bring together a group of strong individuals and form them into a team quickly. And she can deal with personnel at all levels — from the top CEOs to the interns working the phone.”

Former U.S. Secret Service agent Arnette Heintze said it was Healey who recognized the need to engage his security firm and set up at least 15 briefings with 4,000 members of the business community.

She also had the foresight to establish a business communications center that provided timely information about protests and street closures beginning 10 days before world leaders arrived in Chicago.

“There was fear among all the media. Everyone was comparing us to Seattle. Even the week of the summit, there were reports saying, ‘Battle of Seattle.’ She recognized the strong value that an effort to communicate with businesses would have,” Heintze said. “We still had our fair share of skeptics. But we had businesses that came to us after these briefings and said, ‘We feel a lot more confident that this thing is gonna work just fine.’ ”

The question now is whether Healey will climb back on her horse, Clooney — named after actor George Clooney — and ride off into the sunset or be drafted for yet another government project.

Only time will tell. But the self-assessment she offered to the Sun-Times after becoming Daley’s 11th chief of staff is revealing about the former Army brat’s lifelong quest to embrace new challenges and take a leadership role.

“I’m very direct. I’m willing to make decisions quickly. I’m a good facilitator. I cut to the heart of the issue, identify solutions and move things forward,” Healey said then. “I don’t feel like you have to have 400 people in a meeting. You need decision makers. Identify the purpose, what questions need to be answered, try to answer those questions. Don’t just come to be me with a problem. Come to me with a recommended solution and be prepared. If you’re not, don’t waste my time.”

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