Will The Romney “Story” Matter?

Well, it was bound to happen: I just got my first phone call from a reporter who wanted to know about Mitt Romney’s track record as a private equity investor.

For context, please understand that the first time I ever heard of Mitt Romney was when he decided to run for U.S. Senate against Ted Kennedy in 1994. I was in an urban peace corps-like program called City Year at the time, which counted Romney among its strongest backers. The result was that I shook his hand seemingly two dozen times during that campaign, because he always called me out when he was campaigning at the Park Street T stop (which seemed to be every single morning).

He lost the Senate race – before later winning a 2002 gubernatorial bid – but my point is that he left private equity long before I began covering it. The Bain Capital I now cover is far different than the one he left, although some of the faces remain the same.

So what can I say about Romney the Investor, other than that he’s had far more success than as Romney the Governor (call me biased, but I don’t think he would have won reelection in Massachusetts, had he run)? Truthfully not much yet, but I wanted to let you know that I’m beginning to do the necessary research. Not only Bain’s ROI under his tutelage, but also how he actually made investment decisions, how he dealt with portfolio companies and what lessons he’s been able to transfer to politics (and which ones he hasn’t).

James Carville argues that a presidential candidate’s “story” is often more important than his political positions, and Romney’s story is primarily that of a wildly triumphant businessman. What we now need to determine isn’t whether or not the story is true – it almost certainly is – but whether or not it’s applicable to our next president.

If anyone’s got a good anecdote, please pass it on. If not, just keep watching this space (you also could read this recent piece by Matthew Rees). Now if someone could only convince Mark Warner to reconsider…