Silicon Slopes: Character Drives Business, Says Romney

Salt Lake City—A person’s character is worth more in the business world than just their ideas, said former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Speaking at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit last week, Romney recounted his time founding and building Bain Capital from a small venture capital firm to the major financial player it was when he left.

“We never would have imagined it would grow to the extent it has. We put [investors’] interests first, and only invested in something when we thought we could see something not everybody else could see,” he said. “If we could only see what everybody else could see, there was no point investing.”

To be successful, Romney said he and co-founder Coleman Andrews knew they needed to build a team of people who were smarter than they were, and exceptional in some aspect of the business. By taking the team approach, he said, it didn’t matter as much if a candidate was weaker in an aspect that was already covered by another employee.

“We decided early on we would not spend a lot of time worrying about people’s ‘flat spots.’ Everybody has flat sides, some part of their total package that just isn’t ideal for the marketplace or challenge they’re dealing with, but if you spend all of your time working on people’s weaknesses, you spend all your time on weaknesses,” he said. “We said instead what we’re going to do is find people who were extraordinary in some way or another, and then make up for their weaknesses with other members of the team.”

Some of their team members were great at finding deals, but less adept at evaluating them; others were gifted analysts but couldn’t find funding as well.

“We built a team that was so much better than any one of us could have been, and, of course, collectively so much smarter than Coleman Andrews and I, and I think that’s what made us so successful,” Romney said.

In deciding which companies they would and would not invest in, Romney said they paid far more attention to the person presenting the idea over the idea itself. Sometimes the qualities they were looking for were visible on their resume, but other times they weren’t—Staples founder Thomas Stemberg, for example, was fired from one of his previous jobs, Romney said, but his former coworkers, and even boss, still remembered him fondly.

“The single most important element was not the business plan or the financing or the wisdom and power of their idea, but it was the capability of the person bringing that idea, the person leading the enterprise,” said Romney. “We looked to see if the people around them trusted them. Did they have friends? Did they have colleagues in the professional world that admired them? Because what I happened to have found is the most successful senior executives are people who other people admire and trust and follow.”

While the economy continues to grow, Romney said one of the most exciting things for him looking into the future was the great advances in technology, and the impact those advances will bring to the economy, society and the world.

“These are exciting, thrilling times,” he said. “In an innovative world, where innovation drives the future—and I believe that’s what we’re moving into—America wins, because America is the innovator of the world. As long as government gets out of the way and Uncle Sam doesn’t come in and mess things up, America can win, and America winning is key to the preservation of liberty on this planet.