Monday, December 19, 2011

Measuring Mitt Part VII

Up until now almost all of the Measuring Mitt posts (starting here) have been about defending him from various attacks, mostly untrue or skewed. Today this is less defense and more offense—that is, instead of saying why he is not disqualified, saying why he might just be uniquely qualified.

Four years ago, with the economy nearly dropping, and spending out of control under a democrat-majority House and Senate, would have been a good time for a turnaround. Now, in the midst of essentially an economic depression and international “post-American” malaise, a turnaround is a necessity. We are looking for someone who can take on problems, find solutions, and make things happen against the odds. It would be nice if we could elect someone with a track record of doing those very things. It turns out we can.
I cannot guarantee Mitt Romney is the economic and social savior we need, but I am saying his record gives us a better predictor than anyone else’s on the ticket.
Romney came from a successful family, and that helped. But he did not rest on the family laurels; he worked hard. He spent 30 months as an unpaid missionary in France, gaining international experience, and up-close experience with poverty and struggle. During his mission he was involved in a serious accident and was pronounced dead; but in the first of many dramatic turnarounds, he showed there was always hope by waking up very much alive and fully recovering.
He then transferred from Stanford to Brigham Young University, where Ann, his high school sweetheart, was attending. He graduated at the top of his class in 1971, speaking at the College of Humanities commencement. (His writing and communications skills show in his speeches and books.) Four years later, while married with children, he graduated with combined law and MBA degrees from Harvard (cum laude in law, with a scholarship placing him in the top 5% in business). There were no fraternities or other associations for him there; he only had time for study, family, and church—top priorities he has kept as a habit.
Three years later, 1978, he was named vice-president of the management consulting firm Bain & Co. Six years later he founded an offshoot venture capital firm, Bain Capital, which put him in a position to do more than advise, to actually implement his ideas. Staples was one of Bain Capital’s success stories; Romney bought into the idea after nearly rejecting it. He was told by businesses that they spent on average just a few hundred in office supply purchases a year. But Staples founder, Thomas Stemberg, told him, “That’s what they think they spend, not what they actually spend.” So Romney gathered the data (checking actual invoices), found that companies actually spent several times what they believed they spent. A convenient and inexpensive office supply chain was likely to do well. This was a pattern for him, to gather accurate data (and gather it quickly), and then make a decision. Bain Capital made eight times its investment on Staples in three years. Other Bain successes include Domino's Pizza, Sealy, Brookstone, and The Sports Authority.
Besides capitalizing start-ups, it was Bain Capital practice to look for companies that were in trouble, but that could be turned around with better management. Romney turned around companies for a living. This came in handy in 1990. By this point Bain Capital was highly successful, but Bain & Co. was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy because of too much debt. At the request of founder, William Bain, Romney returned as interim CEO for a year. He carefully cut expenses, renegotiated loans, and inspired better morale.
It only took the one year to turn things around. But it was a significant year. Policies Romney put in place continued to be followed, and he is remembered there with great respect. This week Bain & Co. was name Best Employer in America. Incidentally, Romney received only a symbolic $1 for his service as CEO that year.
Then there were the 2002 Winter Olympics. They were mired in deficit spending ($379 million) and unsavory bribery scandals that threatened to take down the Olympic Games completely. Salt Lake City brought in Mitt Romney. With the additional security difficulties the country faced half a year after 9/11, he washed away any hint of scandal and not only overcame the deficit, but made the 2002 games one of the most profitable ever. Romney donated his $1.4 million salary plus an additional $1 million to the games. For a more complete story of this turnaround, you can read his book about it: Turnaround; Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games. Washington, D.C: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2004.
When Romney offers “public service,” he means it. He also turned down his salary as governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2006, and has said he would forego a salary as US President. His governorship is another turnaround story. He replaced a scandal-ridden office with an overwhelming budget deficit. Despite having only 15% of either house in his party, he managed to move the state from a projected $3 billion deficit to nearly a $700 million surplus by the time he left office. He did it the old fashioned way: a combination of spending cuts, targeted fee increases (so users bore the costs), and removal of tax loopholes. And he got Democrat buy-in to make those changes.
Romney has a placard on his desk: “America is never stuck.” To have someone who has accomplished what he has, in his own education and family life, in business, in the Olympics, and in the blue-blue Democrat state of Massachusetts—to have him love America enough to offer to do the turnaround we need might be the opportunity we should take.
America is in deep trouble—far from the founding Constitutional principles of free enterprise and guaranteed rights, upheld by a moral people. But, while the scale is larger, the problems are the ones Romney has had a surprising amount of practice in solving.
I still like several of the candidates. (Certainly Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum deserve a day of discussion, and I hope to get to them before long.) All of our candidates would be an improvement over the man who seems intent on digging our hole deeper. But with Romney, because of his unique experience, combined with his optimism that it can be done, I think he might be just the person we need to get us out of the mess. If you’ve been thinking he was the “lesser evil” that “the establishment” was pushing on us against our will, consider the possibility that he’s in the position he’s in because he’s done a lot of things right for a very long time, and enough people have noticed that he has real support from many people who love America and want her return to what we know she can and should be.
If I choose Romney (and I’m definitely leaning that way, leaning more the more I learn about him), it will be because, as I look over the candidates for the job, I find him the most qualified. And I’m pleased to say more than, “I guess he’ll do.” I think it’s possible he was made and prepared for such a time.

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