Bain & Co. founder Bill Bain dies at age 80

Mitt Romney and William Bain.

William Bain Jr., a management consultant who started two Boston firms that became influential shapers of businesses across the globe and who helped propel the business career of former governor Mitt Romney, died Tuesday at his home in Naples, Fla. He was 80.

The death was confirmed by his family, through the Chapman Cole & Gleason funeral home. No cause of death was provided.

Mr. Bain started his career helping businesses as a partner at Boston Consulting Group. With a handful of BCG colleagues, he started a rival firm, Bain & Co., in 1973. It became one of the biggest consulting firms, in part by focusing not just on providing advice but also helping clients implement a particular strategy.


Mr. Bain also played a critical role in launching private equity firm Bain Capital in 1984. Romney became Bain Capital’s top executive at the time.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

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

Mr. Bain stepped down as chief executive at Bain & Co. during a restructuring in 1991, and Romney took over.

Bain & Co. is now considered one of the world’s most prestigious consulting firms. While its Back Bay office remains its largest location, the consultancy has 8,000 employees across 55 offices in 36 countries.

The company issued a statement honoring its founder: “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.”


After leaving the firm, Mr. Bain cofounded Bain, Willard Cos., a boutique private equity firm.

Bill Achtmeyer, senior managing director at Boston consultancy Parthenon-EY, said Mr. Bain was an important mentor.

“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,” said Achtmeyer, who worked at Bain & Co. before starting Parthenon. “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.”

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.

“Most discoveries look obvious in retrospect,’’ Romney said. “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 organizations.


“His insights changed not only the consulting industry, they changed what it means to lead and manage in a market economy.”

Mr. Bain deliberately kept the two businesses separate, Achtmeyer said, although there was shared ownership between the two.

Achtmeyer developed a close friendship with Mr. Bain, in part built through work and in part built through their shared love of tennis. Achtmeyer said he visited Bain and his wife, Ann, after they settled in Naples during Bain’s retirement.

William Bain Jr. was born on July 30, 1937, in Johnson City, Tenn., to William Worthington Bain and Ruby Kathleen Bain, according to his family.

He attended East Tennessee State for two years before transferring to Vanderbilt University, where he graduated in 1959 with a degree in history.

Mr. Bain started graduate work in history at Vanderbilt but soon took a job in the university’s development office, the family said, and he eventually became development director. It was in that role that he got to know Bruce Henderson, a Vanderbilt grad and founder of Boston Consulting Group. Henderson recruited Mr. Bain to his firm in 1967. He went out on his own six years later.

Mr. Bain, who had lived in Weston and had a summer home in Woods Hole, was a longtime trustee of several children’s organizations in the Boston area, including Children’s Hospital Boston, The Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, the Posse Foundation, and The Meadowbrook School in Weston, according to the family.

In addition to his wife of 20 years, Ann Dean Bain, of Naples, Mr. Bain leaves three sons, William III of San Francisco, Adam of Los Angeles, and Alexander of Menlo Park, Calif.; a daughter, Samantha Bain Enright of Boston, a brother, Larry of Brandon, Miss., and three grandchildren.

Memorial services are being planned for a future date in Naples and in Boston.

Jon Chesto can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.