The Real Romney

The Real Romney

by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman

Review by John E. Wade II

This is an outstanding biography of Governor Mitt Romney, written by two reporters from The Boston Globe.  They describe Governor Romney as incredibly bright, hard working and ambitious.

Faith and family are an integral part of Governor Romney’s makeup.  He has a strong support system in his wife, Ann, his children and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon).  His father, George Romney, served three terms as governor of Michigan and then lost his bid for the presidency.

The book recounts Governor Romney’s business qualifications and knowledge of our economy, with its enormous debt, deficits, obsolete tax system and a bloated government; it is time for an amazing rescue by Governor Romney, a man who loves a challenge.  He sums up his message in a way that I consider quite honest and desperately needed:  “I know how business works…(and)… why jobs come and why they go.”  I don’t believe President Obama could sincerely make that claim.

Mitt was born five years after his brother Scott, becoming the fourth and last child of George and Lenore Romney.  A gap like that, five years and more, makes him, I’ve been told, another “oldest child” (psychologically).

George Romney became Chairman and CEO of American Motors Corporation.  He was able to turn around the company, partly using his own funds.  George advised Mitt, to “dream big and work hard and pray always….”  As far as Mitt is concerned he had a strong and beneficial relationship with both his father and mother.  It appears Mitt’s tact came from his mother.

There were some unusual aspects of George and Mitt’s lives.  When George was governor, he liked getting advice from Mitt, and generally liked when his son was with him in the governor’s office and elsewhere.  And when Mitt graduated from high school, his father was the speaker.

Mitt met Ann when he was still in his teens and described falling in love with her at first sight.  He was smitten, finding her smart, beautiful and independent, and he pursued her until she returned his love.  When she was just sixteen years old Mitt asked her whether she might someday marry him.  She said “yes” but quizzed him about his Mormon faith as she was a traditional Protestant.  He gave her a brief explanation, after which he noticed she was crying.  Later with George Romney’s help Ann learned about the Moorman faith and converted.

Mitt is justly proud of his Mormon ancestry.  And although generations ago, some of his ancestors had multiple wives—outsiders considered polygamy one of the biggest objections to the faith—Mitt and his father had traditional marriages and family lives.

Mitt started his college career at Stanford University.  One of his classmates was impressed by Mitt’s dedication.  A classmate commented that Mitt was “wanted… on whatever committee or group you were doing.  He would take charge or lead it.”  Another complimented that Mitt was down to earth and did not put on airs.  This last comment was particularly revealing in that his father was at the time governor of Michigan.

Other things that stood out with his classmates were his closeness to his father and his loyalty to Ann—he often flew home to see her.

As are most nineteen-year-old men of the Mormon faith, he was called to missionary work.  His main reason for being reluctant to go was his fear of losing Ann.  But he acquiesced and was sent to France.  There, as always, he was very dedicated and remembered as “… charming, charismatic and passionate.”  Mitt would later explain that he had converted ten to twenty people during his mission work, which was an impressive feat.

One fellow missionary said of Romney, “You saw this exceptional leadership …to inspire, uplift, bring people to focus, remember what they’re about.”  Another admired his “drive.”  Throughout his two years as a missionary, Mitt remained dedicated to Ann.

After returning from France, Mitt transferred to BYU to be with his new missionary friends, but mostly in pursuit of Ann.  In 1969, Mitt and Ann married—a match that seems to have been made in heaven.

The BYU Cougar Club invited Mitt to join and by 1970 he became president.  He started a major drive to raise money for university athletics.  The club has since become a financial booster for the University and it was Mitt’s vision that made this happen.

Mitt watched his father’s political career, as he was re-elected as Michigan’s governor, featured in a Lifemagazine story, and in 1967 was ranked as a “leading presidential candidate.”  George Romney lost his bid for the presidency with one public statement, “… I just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get.”  He was talking about a trip to Vietnam where he had been extensively briefed about the war.  But the “brainwashing” statement drove him out of the presidential race.

Perhaps the most important thing now is that Mitt saw his father win the Michigan governorship three times and lose his bid for the presidency.  What is also important is that his father was his hero and he watched closely the ups and downs of his career.

In 1971, Mitt earned a degree in English literature with highest honors.  He gave an address in which he said, “I pray that this graduating class will choose a different kind of life, that we may develop an attitude of restlessness and discomfort, not self-satisfaction.”  George sat down with Mitt and encouraged him to take his next step in life—a dual endeavor—law and business degrees from Harvard.  So, Mitt and Ann moved to Massachusetts.

One striking aspect of the path that George and Mitt chose, mentioned by the authors, was that out of the hundreds of business and law school classmates, only fifteen earned this joint JD/MBA degree, students who were considered the “elite of the elite”.  Mitt excelled in both law and business.  Romney left Harvard in 1975, graduating with honors from both law and business school.  He was selected as a Baker Scholar, which signified that he was in the top five percent of his business school class.  This is the sort of academic background, combined with his later rich experience, not to mention his other profound qualities, that makes him superbly suited for the presidency.

Charles Faris courted Romney for years, and upon graduation hired him for the Boston Consulting Group.  This business consulting company analyzed extensive amounts of financial data seeking to “lower costs, improve productivity and gain market share.”  This is the type of background that can lead to a necessary streamlining of our government.   Faris, his mentor at the firm, commented about how hard Mitt worked.  I believe that as president he would do the same.  He would be hard-working, unlike President Obama with his frequent golf games and vacations while the national debt rises rapidly.

The authors note that Mitt and Ann’s “faith, as they began building a life together, formed a deep foundation…(in)  their marriage, their parenting, their social live…”  To me that foundation will serve the family well in the White House.  The biographers note that the Romneys always maintained a solid, functional family life.  They reared five sons, each of whom in turn served as a missionary.

Romney held important leadership positions in his church, which exposed him to “personal and institutional crises, human tragedies, immigrant cultures, social forces, and organizational challenges.”  One church colleague said, “… he was warm, accessible, and a good listener… reasonable, accommodating, and imaginative.”  A friend, who is a Democrat, said, “His leadership has been obvious to the people who know him best…”  Romney grew as a leader throughout his life, whereas President Obama is a political science follower.

After two years with Boston Consulting Group, he continued as a business consultant for about six years with Bain and Company.  When Romney was only thirty-six years old he walked into the offices of Bill Bain, his mentor and boss.  Mitt was already sought after by clients, always calm and collected, analytical and effective.  But this time, Bill Bain didn’t have a consulting assignment.  He proposed the formation of a new venture, Bain Capital.  Bain’s idea was to raise some money and invest in start-up, new companies as well as troubled companies.  This way Bain Capital could both advise them as consultants and also share in their growth.  Mitt was to head the firm.  But Mitt stunned Bain by driving a stiff bargain for him to take the risk in his career.  Bain eventually sweetened the deal until Mitt agreed.

The next fifteen years proved not only that Mitt was a superb business and investment practitioner, but a wonderful leader as well.

Mitt presided over approximately one hundred transactions.  He attempted to be very prudent and careful.  After a time he found the risk was less in troubled companies already operating rather than new ventures.  He learned, from the bottom up and top down, business and investing with great success.  He came to understand very well how jobs were created and why they were lost.  That depth can be of tremendous help in the presidency.

To do this Romney had to peer into the future over and over again, which can be of tremendous benefit in controlling the budget, reforming entitlements as well as simplifying and remaking our tax system.  President Obama lacks any such vision.

Romney and his team averaged significant returns during the time that he lead Bain Capital.  Most of this astounding success came from a relatively few companies.  That’s somewhat characteristic of small cap companies.  But Bain Capital was a pioneer in leveraged buyouts and applying intense management consulting.

Romney engaged in leveraged buyouts in which a troubled company would be purchased with funds from Bain Capital and much more money from debt supported by the company’s business.  Romney favored friendly takeovers in order to get the cooperation of management in the endeavors.  Intense analysis, possibly restructuring, would follow.  Some businesses would involve layoffs while others were roaring successes.  The debt and dividends to Bain Capital at times led to bankruptcy of the companies,  but in other cases the risk was highly rewarding, sometimes to all, sometimes mainly to Bain Capital.

Perhaps the greatest lesson from Romney’s two years with Boston Consulting Group, six years with Bain and Company, and fifteen years as head of Bain Capital was a deep top-down, bottom-up knowledge of business and investment.  Another very important aspect of Romney’s record was that he “surrounded himself with great people who know how to execute his vision,” as expressed by Thomas G. Stemberg, co-founder of office supply giant Staples, later a Bain Capital investment.

The story of how Romney saved his previous consulting firm was a superb example of his executive abilities.  He was called back from Bain Capital because of severe financial problems in his old employer, Bain and Company.  He intensely analyzed the problem, did some restructuring and then called all the partners (about forty of them) into a meeting.  He expressed confidence that the firm could survive and thrive if they would take a pay cut even though at the time many of these partners could earn higher salaries elsewhere.  He left the room and gave them thirty minutes to decide, saying anyone who wanted to leave the firm should vacate the room.  Only one partner left the room.  The book describes this as “one of his most impressive displays of executive talent and toughness.”

Romney’s experiences at Bain Capital might be mined from Democratic viewpoints for evidence of jobs lost or business failures.  But I certainly don’t expect them to be fair.  The reality is that Romney gained superb background throughout his academic and business career, in contrast to President Obama who is sorely lacking in practical or academic business or investment experience.

In 1993, Romney decided to run against Senator Ted Kennedy, unsuccessfully.  But in defeat he learned.  George Romney commented about his son during the race, stating that Mitt had a better education, more success in business and that he had made much more money. That’s high praise, especially considering the source.

After the loss, Romney returned to Bain Capital and helped guide it to some of its biggest negotiations,  as “… a confident, comfortable deal-maker.”  At this point, Bain Capital was established as “one of the country’s elite leveraged buyout firms.”

In 1998, Romney’s dearly-loved wife, Ann, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  The good news is that Ann discovered, over time, treatments that worked, including exercise, a special diet and riding horses.

Romney’s next venture was the 2002 Winter Olympics.  It was rocked by the scandal of unethical gifts to secure the games in Salt Lake City and serious financial shortfalls.

Of her husband, Ann said, “He loves emergencies and catastrophes….  He would never have considered doing it [the 2002 Olympics] if it weren’t a big mess.”  This is an echo from the past as Romney seeks and is well-suited for the most enormous challenge of his life.

Romney was instrumental in saving the games, generating a tremendous budget surplus.  He also created a path to his next try for political office, the governorship of Massachusetts.  Mitt was elected governor forty years after his father had been elected governor of Michigan.

Romney used his prior career as a guide, as the book annunciated his credo, “… surround yourself with smart, aggressive players and let them go to work.”  This sounds like President Reagan.

Immediately upon assuming office Romney and his staffdiscovered a budget deficit of $650 million which was projected to go into the billions in the following year.  Undaunted, he lead the state through a balancing of this wide gap.  I believe what he did at the state level prepared him for proactive fiscal discipline in the presidency, unlike anything in President Obama’s background.  A major part in Romney’s turnaround was his team’s analysis of fiscal data to identify and eliminate inefficiencies and waste, direly needed in the federal government.

A Democratic state senator said of Romney that he “brought out the best of us.” Of government, Romney said that he did not “think (it) is about doing favors for people.  I think it’s doing the right thing for the folks we represent.”  His desire to do the right thing was echoed by his advisors and others with whom worked closely.

Romney decided to try to achieve universal healthcare in Massachusetts.  In doing so he showed “creativity and confidence, a gift for framing a problem and seeking a solution through, and the courage to disregard some political risk.”  These characteristics are needed now nationally to repeal and replace Obama care.

It was easier to achieve universal healthcare in Massachusetts because the percentage of uninsured residents was among the lowest in our country.  The assessment I make of Massachusetts’ healthcare program is, as Romney has said, suitable for that state, but not for the nation.

However, I believe Romney’s experience as a business consultant examining hospital costs, as well as his Massachusetts success, his academic training, deep business career and moral persistence will help him determine a way to achieve universal healthcare nationally in a sound way, not Obamacare.

In 2008, Romney campaigned for the presidency, having proven a successful businessman and governor.  But he made a series of political mistakes and in the end Senator McCain got the Republican nomination.  I still believe that Senator McCain might have won the 2008 election if he had picked Governor Romney as his running mate.

Romney learned from his 2008 loss, his successful governor’s race and his loss to Senator Kennedy.  So, in the 2012 campaign he knows to focus on the three most vital issues:  the economy, the economy and the economy.  He wrote a book, No Apology, which outlined his policies.  He raised money in an effective manner.  Romney has superb persistence, drive, stamina and a strong underlying moral bend to do the right thing.

Romney stated that “The United States … must remain a beacon of strength and liberty in an uncertain world.  If we don’t, freedom itself is at risk.”  I agree.  We must remain strong militarily and regain our economic growth, not only for our own good, but for the good of the world.

I believe Governor Romney is ideally suited to lead our country out of our unsustainable spending and entitlements which are dragging our economy down.  I believe Governor Romney and a host of Republicans can fix the economy in a kind, moral way.

Posted in