Mitt Romney: From Bain consultant to US president?

Published: Apr 13, 2011


Earlier this week, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney quietly announced a second bid for the American presidency in an online video called "Believe in America". In that video, Romney reiterated a point that he's been making ever since he first emerged as a legitimate presidential candidate in 2008: of all the many labels bestowed upon him over the years—Mormon, Republican, Daddy's Boy—the one that Romney identifies with most is that of the shrewd businessman. It's a label he's earned over the course of a lengthy business career, the roots of which can be traced back to his early days as an ambitious young consultant at Bain & Company.

From Bain & Co...

In the "Believe in America" video, the Republican candidate recalls the finer points of his business career with a politician's affection. "My work led me to become deeply involved in helping other businesses, from innovative startups to large companies going through tough times," Romney says. Sound familiar, strategy consultants? After graduating from Harvard Business School in 1975, the New York Times reports, Romney joined Bain and immediately earned recognition as a rising star at the firm. His confidence and youthful charisma fit in well at Bain, the Times suggests, a bastion of old-world prestige and personality (founder Bill Bain used to buy every new consultant a copy of the business style guide "Dress for Success").

"Think of the way he looks now and picture him 30 years younger," the firm's namesake said of Romney. "He was very good looking. He was very comfortable in his body. He moved gracefully. He wasn’t awkward. He had the appearance of confidence of a guy who was maybe 10 years older."

Romney, pictured with his wife and parents, announces his candidacy for US Senate in 1994.

...to Bain Capital

Soon enough, Romney's proficiency in "telling other people how to run their businesses" saw him earn what the Boston Globe called "a comfortable job as a top consultant" at Bain (by 1978, the Harvard Crimson says, he was a Bain VP). His business acumen and evident leadership skills were recognized in 1984 when the Bain board tapped Romney to head Bain Capital, a private equity spin-off of the consulting firm. From there, Romney's now-famous fundraising skills took the firm to new heights. The Times says that one major coup for a nascent Bain Capital was the addition of Thomas Stemberg, the founder of a fledgling office supplies company called Staples, as a client. "Mitt was just really nice, humble, listened, asked questions," Stemberg recalled of his partnership with Romney. "And he talked about how at Bain, unlike other venture capitalists, they would actually help you run the business."

Bain was different from other consulting firms, Romney had come to believe. "The idea that consultancies should not measure themselves by the thickness of their reports, or even the elegance of their writing, but rather by whether or not the report was effectively implemented," he would say, "was an inflection point in the history of consulting."

The rest of the story of Bain Capital is, as they say, history. The private equity start-up is now a private equity giant, competing with the likes of the Carlyle Group and BlackRock over billions in prospective capital.

As managing director of Bain Capital, Romney built and bought some of today's biggest corporations.  Domino's founder Thomas Monaghan signs over ownership in 1998.

And back again

In 1989, teetering on the edge of financial collapse, Bain & Co. asked golden-boy Romney to rescue the wobbling giant. He had come full circle: not only was he heading the firm that he joined as a lowly associate back in the 70s, but he was doing so in the capacity of a restructuring advisor. Essentially, Romney was the best turnaround man in a firm full of turnaround men.

Though he only held the top spot for two years before returning to Bain Capital, Romney successfully pledged to reverse the firm's fortunes without laying off a single employee.

Now as a career politician, Romney's days at Bain serve as favorite examples of his management skills and business savvy. "In 1985, I helped found a company," he says in his latest video statement, included below. "At first, we had ten employees; today there are hundreds."

Whether or not Mitt Romney's business skills can effectively translate to the American presidency is a discourse for another day. What is clear is that he owes much of what he is today to Bain—and vice-versa.  So far, as the following video will attest, that partnership has worked out particularly well for Mitt:


For more information:
Boston Globe
New York Times
Harvard Crimson

Photos: Jon Chase, Scott Gries (AP)