William Bain Junior, founder of Bain & Company, passes away

22 January 2018 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read
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The business world has been issuing tributes to leading entrepreneur William Bain Junior, who has passed away at the age of 80. The founder of global management consultancy Bain & Company drew praise from the likes of Parthenon-EY Senior Managing Director, Bill Achtmeyer, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, for his leadership and vision.

William Bain Junior, the management consultant behind two Boston firms which became influential global businesses across the globe, and who helped propel the business career of former US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, died Tuesday at his home in Naples, Florida, at 80 years old. Bain, who had been suffering from Alzheimers disease, is survived by his wife of 20 years, Ann Dean Bain, as well as his brother, four children and three grandchildren.

In a statement honouring its founder, Bain & Company said, “Bill’s enduring influence is as vibrant today as when he and a few colleagues first took the leap to start Bain & Company 45 years ago. His focus on client results over just good recommendations was revolutionary at the time.”

Bain & Company founder William Bain Jr. dies  aged 80

Having initially studied History at Vanderbilt University, with aspirations of a teaching career, Bain redirected himself after discovering that he found work at the university’s development office, responsible for soliciting donations from wealthy alumni, more stimulating due to the surprising rapport he developed with the CEOs he met. According to Bain himself in the 2010 book ‘Lords of Strategy’, by Walter Kiechel, “I liked every single one of those guys a lot, and they liked me.”

That role ultimately turned out to be a gateway into the consulting industry, as it led Bain to get know Bruce Henderson, a Vanderbilt grad and founder of Boston Consulting Group. Henderson recruited Bain to his firm in 1967, where Bain eventually became a Partner. Seeking a new challenge in 1973, with the help of a handful of ambitious colleagues, he opted to launch a rival firm, Bain & Company, with a view to competing with BCG and fellow Boston-based consultancy, Arthur D. Little.

The firm would go on to become one of the largest consulting names in the world, and its subsequent success has been due in part to its once innovative focus on not only providing advice, but also helping clients implement a particular strategy. While its Back Bay office remains its largest location, the consultancy now boasts a total of 8,000 employees spread across 55 offices, in 36 countries.

Following the realisation of Bain & Co. as a global brand, in 1984, the firm’s namesake determined that the time was right to enter into the private-equity world. Founding what would quickly become a second global success, in the form of Bain Capital, Bain installed Mitt Romney as the investment firm’s top executive at the time. Later, when the time came for William Bain Junior to step down as Chief Executive at Bain & Co., during a restructuring in 1991, Romney would assume the reigns, having first been blooded by his role at Bain Capital.

Tributes for “mentor” Bain

In a statement following the announcement of his former mentor’s passing, Romney said, “It’s hard for me to imagine my life and career without Bill Bain’s mentoring. He hired me, taught me, and gave me the opportunity of a lifetime. His vision and confidence made Bain Capital possible.’’

The former Massachusetts Governor added, “Most discoveries look obvious in retrospect. Bill Bain saw that creating positive change took more than analysis and strategy; it also took a profound understanding of the processes and personalities of people and organisations.”

Bill Achtmeyer, Senior Managing Director at Boston strategy consultancy Parthenon-EY – who worked at Bain & Co. before starting Parthenon – also said Bain had been an important mentor. Achtmeyer worked with Romney on the team at Bain & Co. that made the case to launch Bain Capital, which became one of the world’s leading private equity firms.

“He was a remarkable leader for bringing a group of many talented people together,… helping build a foundation for what has become a juggernaut in the consulting industry. His tenacity, perseverance, and leadership [created] a role model for many people, including myself and others who started their own firms after having been at Bain,” said Achtmeyer.

According to Achtmeyer, Bain deliberately kept the two businesses separate, although there was shared ownership between the two. Achtmeyer developed a close friendship with Bain, partially via work, but also, in part, thanks to their shared love of tennis, and he continued to visit Bain and his wife, Ann, after they settled in Naples during his retirement.

Bain, who had lived in Weston – a town in the state of Massachusetts – and also had a summer home in nearby Woods Hole, was a long-time trustee of several children’s organisations in the Boston area. These included the Children’s Hospital Boston, The Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, the Posse Foundation, and The Meadowbrook School in Weston. He also served on the board of trustees of Vanderbilt University, and as a trustee of the Florida-based Naples Children and Education Foundation, since 2002.

Prior to his death, William Bain Junior was one of the last surviving founders of the American consulting industry as we know it today; an industry which has since become the largest in the world. Bruce Henderson, the founder of BCG, who introduced William Bain Junior to the world of consulting, died in 1992. The founder of the world’s oldest consulting firm, Arthur D. Little, died in 1935, while McKinsey co-founder James O. McKinsey passed soon after in 1937. He was survived by his business partner Martin Bower, who himself died in 2003.