Friday, January 25, 2008

Mitt Romney—Once in a Lifetime

We have a rare opportunity. We have a good field of Republicans, all honorable men with stable principles. For most, their track records have spots, some more than others. But how many of them got their spots managing complex economies, while engaged in a tug-of-war with opposing legislatures? With two governors and the mayor of the largest US city, we have good executives from which to choose. But this time, we have a lot more that just a respectable roster.

First, let’s get this point straight: If we can manage the economy, we can solve other problems, like pursuing school improvement to boost Georgia’s competitiveness, or training programs to get people out of poverty. Statistics show that a good economy reduces crime, divorce rates, and even abortions. An experienced executive will take care of the economy. We have three of those on the current roster of Republican candidatesd. An experienced lawmaker without executive experience simply won’t. We have two of those on the roster.

Here are our three executives: (1) Mike Huckabee (bachelor’s degree in religion; chief executive of Arkansas); (2) Rudy Giuliani (JD from NYU; chief executive of New York City); and (3) Mitt Romney (MBA + JD from Harvard; chief executive of Bain Capital, Bain & Company, the 2002 Winter Olympics, and Massachusetts). The $338 billion Massachusetts economy is bigger than Switzerland. New York City’s $960 billion economy approaches South Korea and would be the third largest state economy (after California and Texas), if it were a state. Arkansas is a $92 billion economy, about as big as Ecuador or Slovakia. Thus, Huckabee’s education is poor for an executive, while his experience is fairly good. (Even Slovakia takes skill to manage.) Giuliani’s education is good (a law degree), while his experience is quite substantial. (The NYC economy is almost as big as Canada or Mexico. Yes, that's huge.) But Romney’s education is unprecedented, stronger in breadth than any candidate we’ve ever seen (business + law), and so is his experience (business genius + successful governor of a large economy).

But there’s much more than that. Working for the Boston Consulting Group (famous in business strategy textbooks for its strategic decision-making model), then for Bain & Company, another business consultancy, Mitt Romney acquired the best executive training you can get. The job of a business consultancy is to help companies solve tough problems. Members of these large consultancies are so well known for their expertise that client companies often court them to become their own CEOs.

Romney left consulting to found Bain Capital, a hugely successful investment firm that made money by fixing broken businesses (or at least salvaging as much as possible of those that were beyond repair), the toughest job there is in business. A badly managed business that goes too long without facing its problems threatens the jobs of everyone it employs. But for someone who knows how to fix even the worst problems, it’s an opportunity. Thanks to Romney’s company, a lot of jobs that would have been lost were saved instead, and Bain Capital justifiably prospered from its great success.

Meanwhile, remember Bain & Company? Without Romney, the experts at Bain & Company ran aground on the 1991 recession and started to go under. They begged Romney to come back and save the company from collapse. Romney took over, restructured the company, and returned it to strong profitability, all without any layoffs.

Now, wait a minute. Wasn’t Bain & Company already well known for its ability to solve complex business problems? Wasn’t it in the same league of premier business consultancies as Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey & Company (where IBM CEO Lou Gerstner came from)? Yes, it was. And now you know. When the world’s foremost business experts ran into a business problem they could not solve, they called on the only man who could: Mitt Romney. Now, that’s a story of human genius that needs to be told more often.

Next, the 2002 Winter Olympics was $379 million behind its revenue goals and racked by scandal. Once again, Romney took over, cleaned it up, and gave the Olympics a $100 million profit. Then he gave his $825,000 salary to charity. All in a day’s work.

Maybe the tutelage Romney received from a strong, accomplished father (successful CEO of American Motors and successful governor of Michigan) has a lot to do with his business acumen and stable conservative principles. If so, it shows what a dad can do. Thanks to him, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

In the past, we’ve usually found a candidate for the White House who has had great ideas, great principles, great experience, or great education. But when have we seen “all of the above”? Remember this on February 5.

Richard S. Voss, Ph.D.
Business Professor, Columbus, Georgia

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