Business

Deval Patrick takes investing role at Bain Capital

At firm Romney founded, will develop a line of business that addresses social woes

Deval Patrick’s focus is investing for good.
SUZANNE KREITER/GLOBE STAFF
Deval Patrick’s focus is investing for good.

Deval Patrick is joining the Boston investment giant Bain Capital, where the former governor will start a new line of business, directing investments in companies that produce profits but also have a positive impact on social problems.

Patrick, a Democrat who led the state of Massachusetts for eight years, joins a firm founded by his Republican predecessor in the State House, Mitt Romney.

It marks a return to business pursuits for a high-profile former governor whose plans for the future were fodder for intense speculation in political circles.

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The move is a new avenue for Bain Capital, an $80 billion firm best known for investments in companies like Dunkin’ Donuts and Staples. Patrick will help give Bain its first foothold in the growing field of “social impact” investing, tackling social problems such as hunger and climate change with for-profit investments.

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Patrick, 58, will become one of Bain’s managing directors, and the first African-American to do so.

“This is a chance to have real meaning and mission in my work’’ after public service, Patrick said in an interview Monday at Bain’s offices, high in the Hancock Tower.

Patrick has long said that he wanted to return to the private sector after his second term as governor, even as observers wondered if he had designs on Washington. He has considered academia, running a corporation, and starting his own venture capital firm.

Among those wooing Patrick were Bain Capital’s Jonathan Lavine and Steve Pagliuca, co-owner of the Boston Celtics and a leader in the Boston 2024 effort to bring the Olympics to Boston.

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Last month, Patrick signed on to be an ambassador for the Olympics bid and triggered an outcry when it was revealed he would earn $7,500 a day when traveling to stump for Boston. He subsequently said he would help the effort without a fee.

Patrick said he has no plans to return to politics in the near future. But he acknowledged that he weighed how working for a private equity firm could affect his political resume.

“I’ve spent most of my career in the private sector. I know that there are deals that go really well and deals that don’t go so well,” he said.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, when stumping for Barack Obama against Romney, Patrick declined to join Democrats who vilified Bain and Romney’s work for the firm. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Patrick called Bain “a perfectly fine company.”

“They have a role in the private economy, and I’ve got a lot of friends there . . . on both sides of the aisle,” Patrick said at the time. “I think the Bain strategy has been distorted in some of the public discussions.”

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Patrick’s private-sector jobs have included stints as general counsel of Coca-Cola Co. and Texaco. But more than a year ago, he was talking to colleagues about what he might do after his term other than taking a corporate job.

The kernel for his new job was planted in December 2013, on a trade mission that Patrick led to Tokyo. During the trip, Joshua Boger, a former chief executive of Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Boston venture capitalist Michael Greeley urged Patrick to start a venture firm that focused on deals with social implications.

“Michael and I spent the whole evening talking to him about it,’’ Boger said. “It fits his background and his real desire.”

Rather than starting his own firm, Patrick connected with Bain earlier this year, and the deal was quickly sealed, executives said.

“Governor Patrick brings deep experience and superior judgment accumulated during a distinguished career in law, business, and public service, and we are honored to welcome him to Bain Capital,’’ said Michael Ward, the firm’s chief operating officer, in a statement.

His first task at Bain will be to create a business plan and then raise money for the new investment fund. The details of the fund are still to be worked out, including its size, industry focus, and geography. Patrick said he could envision looking for deals in health, the environment, energy, and education, as well as community development. The focus in the early days will be in the United States, Bain said.

The new fund is not philanthropy, Bain executives said. There will be significant pressure on Patrick to find strong investments, companies that can both address major social needs and produce profits, though not necessarily on the scale Bain typically expects of its multibillion-dollar private equity deals.

Investment funds at Bain typically run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, but raising that kind of money should not be hard. Bain Capital executives will invest some of their personal money in it, as they do with all their funds. And there is a growing appetite for so-called impact investing, from pension funds, endowments, and nonprofits such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Investors directed $12.7 billion to such investing last year, up 19 percent from 2013, according to a J.P. Morgan report.

“There’s a lot of money out there in the world that’s interested in economic development, social development, through a capitalistic system,’’ Boger said, “in which one of the principal outputs being sought is social, progressive change — not only a financial return.”

For Bain Capital, the Patrick hiring goes beyond the common practice of giving a politician a desk and a rainmaker’s role between elections. It is a way for a firm known for hard-core business deals to provide clients such as pension funds and wealthy individuals with a social outlet for their money.

The new line of business is also the latest sign of Bain Capital’s evolution from fiercely private dealmakers to a leading Boston company with a growing civic presence. That metamorphosis has come, in part, after the pain of having the political spotlight trained on certain deals during Romney’s campaigns, where companies took on debt and cut jobs.

Today, Bain has 950 employees, about 600 in the Boston area. Bain’s senior partners, who gained extraordinary wealth over the past 20 years, seem eager to change the narrative of the firm as white, male, and elitist.

Bain executives are among the largest philanthropists in the city, supporting charities from City Year to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. They are also big political donors to both parties and have sought public office, from Pagliuca’s run for US Senate to Mark Nunnelly’s recent appointment to Massachusetts revenue commissioner — for no pay.

The Bain partners see the new fund as a nexus of their investing expertise and their civic efforts.

Patrick said he wants his new role “to be about creating opportunity.”

He would not say whether he had signed a contract to stay at Bain for a certain period of time. Bain executives indicated they would not have entered into this arrangement for only a brief stint.

“I’m going to focus on growing this business, building it with these partners and seeing it through to success,’’ Patrick said.

Boger suggested it is probably at least a three- to five-year investment: “This is not the kind of thing where you make three phone calls, get two people together, and get a reward for it.’’

Beth Healy can be reached at beth.healy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @HealyBeth.