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Romney, Bain, and Vanity Fair

3:01 PM, Jan 20, 2012 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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A couple weeks ago Vanity Fair published an excerpt from Michael Kranish and Scott Helman’s book The Real Romney. It was not entirely unfriendly to Mitt Romney, but neither was it entirely fair. For example, the authors tip their hand as to their own views and agendas in the following passage:

The Romneys’ Mormon faith, as Mitt and Ann began their life together, formed a deep foundation. It lay under nearly everything—their acts of charity, their marriage, their parenting, their social lives, even their weekly schedules. Their family-centric lifestyle was a choice; Mitt and Ann plainly cherished time at home with their children more than anything. But it was also a duty. Belonging to the Mormon Church meant accepting a code of conduct that placed supreme value on strong families—strong heterosexual families, in which men and women often filled defined and traditional roles.

That “heterosexual families” kind of jumps out at you, doesn’t it? That Kranish and Helman needed to qualify something as nearly universal as the family unit in such a way as to make Romney look odd and discriminatory says quite a lot, I think.

Even so, there’s one bit of reporting from them which, if accurate, offers an interesting insight into how Romney operates:

And so Bain made his pitch: Up to that point, Bain & Company could watch its clients prosper only from a distance, taking handsome fees but not directly sharing in profits. Bain’s epiphany was that he would create a new enterprise that would invest in companies and share in their growth, rather than just advise them.

Starting almost immediately, Bain proposed, Romney would become the head of a new company to be called Bain Capital. With seed money from Bill Bain and other partners at the consulting firm, Bain Capital would raise tens of millions of dollars, invest in start-ups and troubled businesses, apply Bain’s brand of management advice, and then resell the revitalized companies or sell their shares to the public at a profit. It sounded exciting, daring, new. It would be Romney’s first chance to run his own firm and, potentially, to make a killing. It was an offer few young men in a hurry could refuse.

Yet Romney stunned his boss by doing just that. He explained to Bain that he didn’t want to risk his position, earnings, and reputation on an experiment. He found the offer appealing but didn’t want to make the decision in a “light or flippant manner.” So Bain sweetened the pot. He guaranteed that if the experiment failed Romney would get his old job and salary back, plus any raises he would have earned during his absence. Still, Romney worried about the impact on his reputation if he proved unable to do the job. Again the pot was sweetened. Bain promised that, if necessary, he would craft a cover story saying that Romney’s return to Bain & Company was needed due to his value as a consultant. “So,” Bain explained, “there was no professional or financial risk.” This time Romney said yes.

If this account is to be believed, Romney’s cautiousness at Bain—he didn’t come up with the idea for the company himself, but was offered the job; he initially said no because he was afraid of losing his job security; after being promised job security, he also demanded a promise of public cover should he fail—is an interesting lens through which to view his subsequent political career.

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