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Richard Klass Headshot

The Numbers Guy

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When I read former Massachusetts Governor Willard "Mitt" Romney's quick draw response to the unfolding tragedies in Egypt and Libya, I finally got it. I figured him out. He is not a people person. He is a numbers guy.

This thought first crossed my mind when I saw Romney's response to widespread criticism, including some from within the GOP, of his failure to mention the troops fighting in Afghanistan or veterans in his acceptance speech. Such statements had been a staple of political conventions for sixty years.

Romney disagreed with the questioner. He said that he did mention the military and should not be criticized for not using the word "troops." But what Romney mentioned in a ten second blurb was military budgets, not people such as veterans and those still in harm's way. Corporations seem to not only be people in Romney's world, but people seem to be budgets.

This same lack of concern for people, and indeed also people under fire was missing from his shoot from the hip response to the statement out of the embassy trying to cool the situation, a statement made by a U.S. Embassy official late at night without guidance from Washington. Romney expressed no concern for those Americans in danger in his haste to score a political point against the Obama administration. And Romney, with that nervous half laugh he uses to buy time when he is caught, contended that the embassy was part of the Obama administration and his criticism was therefore valid, an irrelevant point. He had the timeline all wrong, but could not admit his mistake.

Looking back, the signs were all there. At Bain Capital he was a master of numbers. He could analyze a company from every angle. Check the profitability, cash flow, unionization, market share, receivables, debts, pension obligations and a hundred other measurable aspects. See if it can be profitable by cutting costs. What would be the value in splitting it apart? What can we get for a return on investment (ROI) and return on equity (ROE)? Most important of all, how much money can be generated for Bain and its investment partners?

It was a pure numbers game. Job creation, job elimination and employee welfare were not the measure of merit. They were indifferent outcomes to the investors. Profit was the measure of merit. Period. Now we can understand Romney's preference for not bailing out Chrysler and General Motors. They did not qualify as candidates for a Bain investment. Perhaps if they went into liquidation there would be an opportunity for a pick up of some assets and a quick profit. The resulting unemployment and blow to American prestige were not quantifiable in the profit calculation.

We saw the same Bain business case mentality in the 2007 Romney position on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. He said that it did not make sense to spend millions to hunt down one man. Really? The nations spontaneous joy and relief when Osama was dispatched stood in sharp contrast to that calculation. And Romney's assertion that it was an "easy call" that any president would make reveals a cold business side of someone unwilling to acknowledge a competitor's success..

By all accounts Governor Romney is a warm and generous family man who has done much good for others through his church. But his approach to public policy and politics shows him to be a calculating numbers guy who leaves out the human side of the calculus. This is the hole in Romney that so many sense. There is no spontaneity, only calculation. He is not only not like us, he has no empathy for us. He is a numbers guy, not a people guy.