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A Man With a Mission

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mitt Romney spent last week on a presidential candidate announcement tour, speaking in Michigan and Iowa on Tuesday, then hitting South Carolina, New Hampshire and Boston before heading to Florida. Today, in the second installment of Outlook's occasional series on the presidential candidates, classmates, colleagues and competitors from the past remember Romney and his journey from former governor's son to former governor. Also inside: a crash course on the Mormon faith and public life.

Mitt Romney had about the same success as a Mormon missionary in France as most people had: not much.

I served with him in Bordeaux and Paris off and on for 18 months, and for several months we worked as a pair, canvassing the countryside together. A very common way of making contacts is by knocking door to door. We would try to make our approach as interesting as possible. We would introduce ourselves as missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, say that we had a message about Jesus Christ and his appearance on the American continent. Could we have a moment of their time?

Usually the answer was: " Non, merc i."

It was an exercise in humility in the face of rejection. But Mitt always knew how to encourage us to keep going despite the many doors slammed in our faces. Primarily, he led by example. During our service, some of the missionaries had begun to feel that in keeping with their ministerial calling it was not appropriate to laugh out loud very much. Mitt always had a strong laugh and at the time of the proposed laughing ban, he was the top leader in the mission, assistant to the mission president. So he really dispelled the anti-laughing crowd, mostly with his humor.

In the middle of his service in France, he was the driver in an automobile accident in which a woman who was very dear to us was killed. He could have been much more morose, but he led us through that difficult time and returned to his cheery self.

While we were there, we read the book "Think and Grow Rich!" by Napoleon Hill. Some of our church leaders recommended that we use those concepts of positive thinking to overcome doubt and discouragement so we could perform at a higher level. They meant it as applied to our missionary work, but of course it could be applied to business as well. I've often said that Mitt and I read that book at the same time but he read it better than I did.

-- Dane McBride, served as a missionary in France with Romney

* * *

Mitt's father, George, was the governor of Michigan all the years that I knew Mitt at the Cranbrook school. This meant that a Michigan state police detail was at their home all the time. Mitt befriended some of the officers and they left police gifts with him: a shirt, a faux badge, a light, a police belt, among other tokens. Mitt had an innate wackiness, and after we all turned 16 and could drive, he, our friend Butch McDonald and I hatched a plot to use some of those gifts to frighten our unsuspecting dates from Kingswood, Cranbrook's sister school.

The school policy was that the girls could sign out until 11 p.m. on weekends. Earlier in the afternoon of our date, we planted empty beer bottles in the trunk of Butch's car. We agreed that at the appointed time, 10:45 p.m., our car would slowly approach a secluded section of dirt road near the school, and that we would pull over and turn out the lights. Mitt, driving a dark '65 American Motors vehicle (his father had revived that ailing car company before running for governor) topped with a revolving red light, and dressed in his goofy police uniform with a U.S. Air Force hat and dark glasses, came up behind us and approached the driver's window. In a gravelly voice, he asked the two of us to exit the vehicle and open the trunk. The bottles were discovered and rattled for effect. "Step back into the car, boys," the "officer" said, and returned to his vehicle. We expressed mock alarm, peeled out on the dirt road and rushed the girls into the school parking lot just in time. Minutes later, at the local drive-in, we three perpetrators reveled in our success.

-- Stuart White, Cranbrook classmate of Romney's

* * *

Mitt Romney and I were members of the Cranbrook pep squad -- also called cheerleaders. We were un-coached and only barely organized. We did lead the occasional cheer, drawing on whatever we could remember from television or movies. Someone gave me a domesticated duck and suggested that I bring it to one of our football games as the unofficial school mascot. We were the Cranbrook Cranes, and the school mascot, an elegant, regal, long-legged crane, is emblazoned in many places around campus, including on every chair in the dining hall. So I thought it was quite the joke for the pep squad to show up with a squat, fat pseudo-crane mascot to cheer on the football players. The problem came at the end of the game. We had no place to keep the duck. Giving it to a restaurant was all I could think of. Then Mitt stepped forward and volunteered to take charge of our little mascot. He'd put it at his parents' house, where there was a small pond and it could live in a natural, duck-friendly setting until the next game.

The next week, however, as I carefully set up the duck pen on the sidelines, Mitt showed up at the game sans duck. It seems that when he went to get the duck to bring it to the game, all he could find was a small patch of feathers. A fox had gotten there first. Mitt could have laughed this off, as probably the rest of us would have. But he didn't. It was quite obvious that he not only felt sorry for the duck, he also felt sorry that he had let us down. We tried to let him off the hook as best as we could, but I suspect that to this day, he still feels bad about that duck. In fact, as the years went by, it was one of those things you knew not to bring up.

-- Gregg Dearth, Cranbrook classmate

* * *

I will never forget Mitt calmly rattling off and quantifying the different financial problems of the Salt Lake City Olympics. He had been running the operation for a few weeks, and the magnitude of the issues was coming into focus. Tens of millions here, tens of millions there, and the media and sponsors riveting their attention on the scandals he had inherited. I asked how I could help. Because his Bain Capital had been my first institutional investor at Staples and he had been a member of our board for 15 years, he said he knew full well that I was too cheap to buy an Olympic sponsorship for $10 million or so. A few months later he called with a different opportunity. He had personally solicited Office Depot and Office Max to be Olympic sponsors. Both had turned him down. Thus, he could now offer me an opportunity to become an official Olympic "supplier." Much less money, but the ability to use the rings and tickets. I jumped at it. However, for weeks his normally crackerjack staff did not follow through with our marketing department.

Then Mitt called. "Tom, I am terribly sorry. Right around the time of our meeting, IMG persuaded the brand new Office Depot CEO to take a major sponsorship. You are out. I feel terrible given my history with you and Staples, but I have to respect what is best for the Games versus my personal relationships. I will get you guys some tickets, but unfortunately they will not be great. " I wasn't happy, but I knew it was how Mitt operated: he did the right thing, whether his friends liked it or not.

-- Tom Stemberg, founder and former president and chief executive of Staples Inc.

* * *

When Mitt assumed leadership as president and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, everybody saw our Olympic Games as having a very black mark on them. The Justice Department was considering indicting us as an organizing committee. Finances were in very troubling condition. We simply didn't have the money to put on the Games. Mitt immediately worked on raising revenue and on cutting costs. Before he arrived, the organizing board used to have elaborate lunches accented with elegant decorations. I wasn't there, but that high-end catering was the stuff of rumors. For Mitt's first meeting, he served pizza and charged a dollar a slice. The message was clear: be responsible about how you spend money.

However, the budget challenge was nothing compared with the obligation to keep people from 83 nations safe at the Olympics just five months after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

I will never forget the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games and watching Mitt, President Bush and Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, standing at attention as the flag from the World Trade Center was brought in to the stadium by several athletes. A hushed, reverent crowd, more than 50,000 strong, listened as our national anthem was played.

Mitt and I were in Torino, Italy, together. I hope we'll be in Beijing together next year. He may have some other plans for the summer of 2008, but I know he would love to go.

-- Fraser Bullock, chief operating officer and chief financial officer of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee

* * *

After we were sworn in as governor and lieutenant governor in Massachusetts, Mitt and I received some very sobering news: The true budget gap was more than $3 billion (out of a $23 billion budget), up from the projected $1 billion gap. We had campaigned during the fiscal crisis of 2002-03, when many states, including Massachusetts, saw their tax revenue collapse and vowed to close the gap without raising taxes. Mitt asked his managers to accomplish the same work, with fewer resources, by developing new approaches. So instead of inspecting wetlands from the ground, the new leaner environmental affairs office increased enforcement actions by taking regular aerial photos of endangered wetlands. A plane could cover more ground more cheaply and effectively than a bureaucrat in a car. Two parks departments (one a legendary haven for no-show patronage positions) were merged despite the howls from legislators on both sides of the aisle who counted on securing well-paid summer jobs by the public pool for kids of their friends and relatives. Mitt provided leadership in tough times, spurred innovation, honored the work behind each tax dollar and respected families -- that's the Mitt Romney I worked with for the past four years.

-- Kerry Healey, lieutenant governor of Massachusetts during Romney's term as governor

* * *

I had known Mitt Romney for more than 20 years when I went to speak to him in his campaign office in early 1994. We attended the same church and I know a couple of his children quite well and they're all lovely people. But there's a difference between being a lovely family and being a knowledgeable leader. When I went to see him, he had recently announced that he was running against Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), and I thought it would be important for him to hear from someone who'd been active in women's politics in Massachusetts.

I congratulated him on taking a pro-choice position, one of the reasons I had been open to working with him. I remember his response was something like: "Well, this is Massachusetts. I realized I had to take this position," which was the first indication to me that what I had understood to be his personal view was a stance he was actually taking pragmatically. He went on that day to talk about an aunt of his who had died during a botched abortion and how he thought legalized abortion was important. But those around him, and people who knew him closely in the ward, knew that it was a position he had taken because he thought he had to in order to win.

-- Judith Dushku, associate professor of government at Suffolk University in Boston

* * *

I watch with interest as Mitt Romney courts the conservative wing of the Republican Party with his antiabortion message. It reminds me of a pivotal moment in the 2002 campaign for governor of Massachusetts. In the final few weeks before the election, the polls indicated that although I had enjoyed a lead over Romney after I won the primary, the barrage of negative ads was helping to narrow the margin heading into the general election. In preparing for the final debate of the campaign, one strategy was to expose Romney's record of waffling on the issue of abortion, an important topic for a majority of voters in Massachusetts. I pointed out that, in his 1994 race against Sen. Ted Kennedy, Romney had accepted the endorsement of a pro-life group, and that when he was living in Utah while running the Olympics, his close friend and adviser had written a letter to the editor stating that Romney was not pro-choice and had taken on that label only to run against the senator. Romney responded that his support for a woman's right to an abortion was deep and long-held, dating to the early 1970s. He stated that since the 1970s, he had agreed with his mother, an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate, that to support abortion reflected an important belief in the separation of church and state. He was angered by my statements. He chastised me for being "unbecoming" because I was trying to scare the voters on this important issue, and insisted that he was truly pro-choice and "devoted and dedicated to honoring [his] word" on this issue. In that exchange, he was able to not only solidify his image as a strong pro-choice advocate, he was also masterful in spinning the story afterward that I was overly aggressive and indeed "unbecoming," because I had insisted that he was not telling the truth.

-- Shannon O'Brien, former Massachusetts state treasurer and Romney's 2002 opponent

* * *

Mitt had hired me as a young associate at Bain & Co. in 1978, and we worked together occasionally between then and 1983, when we laid the foundations for the creation of Bain Capital. We started with a vision but virtually no experience in the realm that is now known as private equity. For six months, we traipsed around the United States, Europe and Latin America, seeking investors to back our plan, getting plenty of "no, thank yous" along the way.

One potential investor was concerned that we would spend lavishly on fancy offices and needless expenses. I could tell that this bothered Mitt, because he is very careful about spending. Finally, I told the gentleman: "You need to understand how frugal Mitt is. When he and Ann go to the movies, they pop their own popcorn in advance. Mitt figures the home-popped Orville Redenbacher costs him only 62 cents, which is a whole lot cheaper than $4.50 for the big tub at the movie counter."

-- Coleman Andrews, co-founded Bain Capital with Romney in 1983.

* * *

When Mitt was at Bain Capital, I referred a couple of deals to him. In that business, you have to be a vacuum cleaner and amass more facts about the investment than anyone else in the world. That's a skill set that serves him well. Romney was so successful as a private equity investor that he was able to command a 30 percent share of the profits for Bain as general partner. That figure normally would be 20 percent. He was the most successful private equity investor in the country and with his track record, people were happy to give a 30 percent share to Bain. If you pay sufficient attention to detail you have less risk. And with him, nothing is left to chance unless it has to be. He is running his campaign that way -- marvelous planning at all levels.

-- William Weld, Republican former governor of Massachusetts

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