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Working at Bain & Co. with Mitt

Mitt at Bain.jpg“Joe, It doesn’t happen often, but I am happy to say that I was wrong.” That’s how Mitt Romney hired me to work at Bain & Company in the fall of 1982.

I had had two rounds of interviews to start off: the first visit to Boston went well; in the second set, things did not click. That session ended with a 60-minute interview with Mitt. He was smart, focused, a good listener, and he made Bain seem like a great place to work. When I got the ding letter, I consulted with Yale Law and Dartmouth people already working at Bain to find out what went wrong. “You were too low key,” they said, and not numerate enough. I wrote Mitt a letter telling him why these concerns were unfounded; he phoned me in New Haven and invited me up for another set of interviews, and I got the job. The next two and a half years were hard work, good fun and great learning in the company’s small London office (with cases in the UK, France, Cameroon and Northern Ireland).

The current election campaign has focused solely on Mitt’s time at Bain Capital. For some reason, his work in Bain & Company’s consulting practice from 1977 to 1984 has not made the news. It should, for it shows that Mitt is a strong problem solver and a good manager. At Bain we’d advise large corporate clients on a longterm basis and really dig deep into the guts of these mostly disfunctional organizations. The companies would always be overstaffed, so cost-cutting was part of any relationship, and they usually had not been managed with any vision. We’d get them to shed subsidiaries in failing business areas, shut down unpromising products, and push them forward into opportunities for growth. As a rule, staff levels would drop in the short term and then rise in the medium term, as the now-healthy companies began to grow.

I never worked directly under Mitt — he was based in Boston and I was in London — but he had a strong reputation in the firm for doing brilliant analysis and getting ideas implemented, and for being an excellent vice-President for whom to work: he was sharp, extremely well organized, and on his cases client presentations always seemed to take place on Thursday or Friday, so that consultants could count on a weekend off. Some of us were jealous. Other VP’s were often not as considerate in setting schedules in a firm where 80-hour workweeks were the norm.

Other than at formal company events, the only time that I interacted with Mitt after being hired was upon walking into the supply room of the London office one day in 1984 to get a pen. Mitt was already there, at the far end of the room, getting something for himself. He looked up, said “Hi Joe,” and asked how things were going for me. He hadn’t seen me for about two years, and he had undoubtedly interviewed a few hundred potential consultants in the intervening time, so we can give him credit for some pretty good facial recognition software.

Now, I am not saying that you should vote for Mitt Romney tomorrow, but you might keep in mind that at a time when the Presidency of the United States was very far from his mind, the people who worked with Mitt at Bain & Company thought that he was a smart, stand-up guy.


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