After graduation from HBS, Romney entered the burgeoning field of consulting, and in the late 1970s he landed at Bain & Company. Until then the business of consulting had been kind of hit-and-run: a firm would take on a client to help with a particular issue, provide some analysis, and then send the client on its way. Bain did things differently. Bainies, as they were known, became deeply involved with the companies they advised, learning everything about their businesses, the industries they worked in, and the competitors they were up against. When an analysis was finished, Bainies didn't pack up and leave. They stayed with the company, making sure it continued to apply the lessons it had learned.
Romney distinguished himself at Bain, and in 1984 he was asked to lead a venture-capital spinoff. Starting out as a modest enterprise, with a handful of people from Bain & Company and roughly $30 million, Bain Capital was soon wildly successful. Among the first companies it invested in was Staples, an office-supply store conceived by one of Romney's business-school contemporaries, which had been shunned by some venture capitalists; Romney and others saw the potential. In 1986 Staples, Incorporated had one store. Today it has nearly 1,700.
But while Bain Capital flourished, its progenitor, Bain & Company, struggled, and by 1990 it was on the verge of financial collapse. Romney was called back to the firm, where he restructured the debt, persuaded all but one of the partners to stay for at least a year, and installed a new leadership team. The company survived; and as a symbolic gesture, Romney drew a salary of only one dollar a year. (As governor of Massachusetts he draws no salary at all. A lesson he says his father taught him is that one shouldn't get involved in public life until it is a question of service rather than employment.)
Romney took more than skills and knowledge away from Bain; he also acquired a way of thinking, a Weltanschauung—call it the Bain world view. He sees waste and inefficiency in almost moral terms; in fact, his crusade against inefficiency is practically a governing philosophy. "Government inefficiency wastes resources and places a burden on citizens and employers that's harmful to our future," he told me. "And anytime I see waste, or patronage, it bothers me."
"As a nation we are in a global economic race with huge populations in Asia," he continued, "where economies are growing at extraordinary rates with highly educated, highly motivated, and in many cases highly entrepreneurial individuals. Anytime government puts waste and excessive burdens of regulation and unnecessary taxation on its citizens, it's putting us behind in that race."
Romney loves the very vocabulary of business—the rhythm of charts and diagrams and boardroom presentations. One afternoon, standing in a newly built Silver Line bus station in South Boston, he introduced a transportation plan that he hoped would be a blueprint for the next twenty years. Speaking in terms that only a consultant could love, he said, "Let me now take a journey with you in … PowerPoint."