Governor Bridges Public, Private Gap

When the Governor wants to talk, Massachusetts House representative Bradley H. Jones, R-North Reading, says he does something that not many executives do.

Instead of calling Jones into his office for a meeting, Gov. W. Mitt Romney (R) often appears, unannounced, in the House Minority Leader’s doorway.

“He’s been known to stroll down to the office just to talk,” Jones says. “That goes into what kind of a person he is.”

In his campaign this fall, Romney cast himself as a political outsider—the kind of person who could use his extensive private-sector experience to “clean up the mess” of inefficiency and corruption that he said plagued Beacon Hill.

Romney’s business background and outsider status give him “a fresh perspective and a clean eye” in government, according to Lt. Governor Kerry M. Healy ’82.

But at times, they can also make his job as a Massachusetts politician more difficult.

Romney’s opponents, from Senator Edward M. Kennedy ’54-’56, D-Mass—whose position he challenged in 1994—to then-Treasurer of the Commonwealth and gubernatorial opponent Shannon P. O’Brien, have attempted to cast him as a hardhearted deal maker, insensitive to local constituents’ needs.

O’Brien’s campaign ads last October featured interviews with workers laid off from jobs at companies that were bought out by Romney’s investment firm, Bain Capital.

Romney countered with an ad accusing O’Brien of mismanaging state funds and capitulating to a corrupt insider culture on Beacon Hill.

When Romney was asked by Kennedy School of Government (KSG) Dean Joseph S. Nye to give this year’s Commencement address, students drafted a petition demanding that the Governor not speak.

“The Kennedy School is dedicated to training leaders who forgo opportunities for profit in the private sector in order to serve the common good,” the petition’s author, first-year KSG student Stephen L. Rabin, wrote in an op-ed in The Crimson in May. “Romney spent his business career at Bain Capital putting self above the common good.”

Responding to the petition, KSG administrators said they would include student input in next year’s selection process.

But Joseph McCarthy, senior associate dean at the KSG, who served on the committee that made recommendations to Nye, defends the choice of Romney as this year’s speaker.

McCarthy says that Romney is more than qualified to provide insight into the traditional Commencement day subject of public service.

“He has been in all three sectors,” McCarthy says, “the private sector, government and NGO. That’s something we want our students to think about.”

An Olympian’s Gift for Business

Romney grew up in Michigan, where his father, George W. Romney, was elected governor in 1964 after a successful career as a businessperson.

As a teenager, Romney says he followed his father’s political career closely. In 1970, he helped his mother, Lenore, with her unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate.

A Mormon, Romney served his church mission in Paris and graduated in 1971 from Brigham Young University, then moved to Boston for graduate school, earning a joint degree from Harvard Business School (HBS) and the Law School.

After he left Harvard, he became vice president of the Boston consulting firm Bain & Co., and in 1984 Romney founded Bain Capital, the investment company that grew to local prominence under his leadership.

Romney is reported to be a sharp businessperson with a vigorous drive for success.

Robert C. Gay, managing director at Bain Capital, first met Romney when he was working at Boston Consulting Group, before going to HBS.

Gay went to work on Wall Street, but returned to Boston when Romney asked him to join Bain Capital as one of its first partners.

Gay describes Romney a bright and discerning business leader.

“His main role was to play the devil’s advocate,” Gay says. “If we were deciding to do an investment, he’d always be the person saying, ‘Should we do this?’ And if we didn’t, he’d say ‘Should we?’”

Romney’s firm was engaged in venture capital—investing in firms with good business concepts in hopes of gaining a high return—and leveraged buyouts—targeting undervalued companies, improving inefficiencies in their workforce, and selling the companies’ shares to reap profits for investors.

According to Gay, Romeny made Bain into a huge success, founding or buying out companies like Domino’s Pizza, Brookstone and Staples Inc.

“It was just a little firm when I got there,” Gay says. “When I walked in there were only about 12 of us, and we’d invested $35 million. Today we manage $15.5 billion. In 20 years, he organized that growth.”

But the real proof of Romney’s business ability, says HBS Dean and Romney’s close friend Kim B. Clark ’74, is his record as CEO of the 2002 Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC).

Romney was called in to salvage an Olympics mired in scandal, after SLOC members were accused of using bribery to persuade the International Olympic Committee to bring the games to Utah.

“He approached that whole experience as an important world event,” Clark says. “He saw that we needed to restore confidence, public trust and support for the Olympics.”

Romney pulled the Olympics out of fiscal crisis, and ensured that the games ran smoothly despite the country’s state of heightened security.

Long Jump to the Public Sector

With his efforts to restore legitimacy to the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, Romney came into the national spotlight.

He returned to Massachusetts to begin his gubernatorial bid, pushing acting Governor Jane M. Swift out of the race.

Romney was greeted with a surge of public approval—although his campaign stumbled over controversy when Democrats argued that he had originally filed income tax returns as a resident of Utah.

Romney recovered, however, from the income tax debate to sweep the race for governorship, defeating Democratic candidate Shannon P. O’Brien by a decisive margin.

He announced in a speech at the Park Plaza Hotel, shortly after his victory, that “it’s time for a new era. The message is that people come first, not the politicians.”

But Romney has had to contend with plenty of politicians to put his proposed reforms of state government on the table.

According to colleagues working at both the state and municipal level, dealing with a legislature dominated by a vast Democratic majority has not been easy for the Governor.

Jones describes the Romney’s relationship with House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, D-Mattapan, as fraught with tension.

“(Finneran) is not averse to wanting power and not afraid of using that power,” he says. “Now, having a governor who is used to making a decision and having it implemented—I think it creates some friction.”

In a state where politics are often regarded as “a blood sport,” according to Secretary of Environmental Affairs Ellen Roy Hertzfelder ’81, Romney has proved himself capable of setting a tough course.

“He brings smart ideas, like smart vision and smart growth, to the forefront,” she says, “and he’s not afraid of opposition.”

Romney is often described as a hands-on leader, someone who pays close attention to detail.

“I think he’s a very quick study,” says Jones, “That’s when you don’t really know the issues, and you immerse yourself in something, and come to understand it in a very short time.”

Romney, by all accounts, has used his first five months as governor aggressively, recruiting a transition team and cabinet from a diverse range of backgrounds and political affiliations and proposing bold reforms.

“He encourages healthy debate and vigorous expressions of opinion,” says Healey, “But he is definitely not ruled by consensus. In the end, he draws his own conclusion.”

Radical Restructuring

Some of those conclusions have been controversial.

Romney’s plans for “radical restructuring” of state government have at times been met with upheaval.

“One person’s efficiency is another person’s cuts,” says Harvard Graduate School of Education (GSE) Professor of Education and Social Policy, Gary A. Orfield. “And we can’t cut the fat without cutting the bone.”

Orfield says that Romney’s proposed restructuring of the state university system—which would eliminate the position of University of Mass. President William T. Bulger, and allow individual campuses to “spin off” by setting their own course—would actually force the campuses to compete for fewer resources.

But Healey says that Romney’s reorganization plan would mean less in terms of overall cuts to higher education than those proposed by the House or the Senate.

“We’re hoping that what they’ll embrace is the structural reforms of government as well as the financial cuts,” she says.

Romney has restructured the governor’s office, creating “clusters” within his cabinet that are designed to find creative approaches to coordinating the way the state provides services.

“It creates an opportunity for cross fertilization and some really different ways of thinking,” says Secretary of Elder Affairs Jennifer D. Carey ’78.

Carey says she has used the resources of other secretaries in her “cluster” to design new combinations of services for aging baby boomers.

Romney’s creation of two new secretarial positions—education and commonwealth development—are expected to be rubber-stamped by both the Senate and House in their budget proposals.

But many of his biggest cuts won’t go through or will be reduced in the legislature.

But “to his credit,” Jones says, “he probably filed the first budget document since Bill Weld in ’91 and ’92, that the legislature took seriously. He has been very successful in setting an agenda, and we’re working off that agenda.

Healey adds that Romney “has been able to achieve consensus on the idea that we don’t want any new taxes.”

“I think its because he has that fresh perspective,” she says. “I don’t think someone without that would have been able to do it.”

A Squeaky Clean Image

With even the slightest criticism of Romney, both supporters and many opponents are quick to add that his morals are in the right place.

“He’s an extremely principled man,” Healey says of the influence Romney’s religion has on his approach to government, “That’s reflected in his approach to life.”

Friends emphasize his commitment to family: with his wife Ann D. Romney, he has five sons and four grandchildren.

Carey says that at staff meetings in the governor’s office, she often notices the photographs that offer a glimpse into Romney’s close family life.

“They’re not, you know posed pictures,” she says. “They’re of people having fun. There’s this one cute picture of three little kids in a row—you know, classic kid stuff. It just makes you realize this is someone who’s very grounded.”

Clark says that Romney has a gift for making people laugh as soon as he walks through the door of his family home.“He just brings a warmth that makes him the kind of person people really like being around,” he says.

Romney is known for his straight-as-an-arrow image.

When an Olympics Committee volunteer said that Romney had sworn at him in a confrontation over the volunteer’s handling of a traffic jam, Romney famously declared that he said nothing worse than “H-E-double-hockey-sticks” to the volunteer.

‘Citizen Public Servant’

Davis says that a different version of Governor Romney emerges when he’s at work.

“It’s interesting—when you see the governor at press conferences, he’s all, you know, spiffy,” she says. “But when he’s working, his sleeves are rolled up, and he’s there taking notes, very involved.”

Some people say Romney’s CEO experience seems to come out when he wants to get things done: he “can be crisp sometimes,” according to Herzfelder.

But for many experts on government, Romney’s business experience is exactly what makes him fit to be a good leader.

“It is important that we develop individuals who can move easily between the public and private sectors,” says IBM Professor of Business and Government Roger B. Porter, “That was certainly the case in the early years of our Republic.  The need for such individuals is as great today as it was then.”

Joseph L. Badaracco, Shad Professor of Business Ethics at HBS, says that there are three qualities essential to success in business.

“You need strategy success,” he says. “You’ve got to be able to look at the environment around you and see what your organization needs. You need real skills with people—because nothing happens just because you’ve given a command. And you need to be a realist, so that if something isn’t working you can recognize that and change.”

Badaracco says that such skills would be useful in politics or in business, adding, “I would be astonished if Governor Romney didn’t have all three.”

In the end, perhaps the most interesting point of view that Romney has to offer on public service is not that of a flawless leader, but that of what Carey calls, a “citizen public servant.”

“Seeing the governor means seeing that you can have a life as a private citizen in one phase and also be a public servant, and engage with society at another level,” she says.

Carey herself worked in the private sector for many years before she entered government, joining the cabinet of Governor Paul A. Cellucci in 1999.

She spent 10 years as a senior admissions officer at Harvard College, and then worked as a college counselor at a private high school.

“If you had said to me eight or even five years ago that I would be Secretary of Elder Affairs…after I’d had such a wonderful career in education, I would have said ‘No way!’” she says.

But working with Romney, Carey says she finds his experience reflects what she has enjoyed most about her own career.

“I hope as students are listening to the governor’s remarks, they’ll realize that it’s important to make that kind of engagement and commitment to society,” she says, “but also that it doesn’t have to be a lifelong commitment. You can always have a variety of experiences.”

—Staff writer Elizabeth S. Widdicombe can be reached at widdicom@fas.harvard.edu.