Just how much do you know about Bruce Rauner? Can you imagine him busily “fixing Illinois”?
Does he have the skill-set to manage a sprawling state government and get its staggering budget shortfalls under control?
Carol Felsenthal spent months interviewing scores of people for the provocative Chicago Magazine piece “Will the Real Bruce Rauner Please Stand Up?”
“He’s been considering a run for governor since, as best as I can tell, about 2003,” she tells us. “And what pulled the trigger for him was watching Bill Brady lose to Pat Quinn in 2010. And Rauner thought – well, I’m a neophyte but I could have easily won that race – and likely he could have.”
As we all know, Bruce Rauner is a very wealthy man. So we asked Felsenthal to please, in the simplest manner possible, explain how he made all those billions. She said the story really gets going when he meets Stanley Golder, who recruits him to his private equity firm – the firm that would eventually be called GTCR after Rauner became a partner years later.
“They came up with this idea that was probably Stanley Golder’s idea but it was carried out brilliantly by Bruce Rauner,” Felsenthal asserts. “They’re not interested in prestigious or sparkling business arrangements, cool or edgy companies, or being on the frontier of anything. They look for scattershot mom-and-pop businesses, one here, one there. They go out and they acquire a funeral home in Phoenix, and a funeral home in St. Louis. And they get hundreds of these, put them together in a business where they can have economy of scale…then he’ll find other people to run subsidiary businesses…so instead of having a local or regional business you have a national business. The company goes public. It’s sold. They often-times will come away with a profit of hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Sometimes Rauner’s efforts to appear modest with his work clothes and old cars infer a narrative that he came from very poor beginnings.
“This idea that he had a log-cabin background,” she says. “His father was a University of Michigan graduate and an electrical engineer who worked for Motorola as VP. They were solidly middle class people. Bruce was born in Wrigleyville. Very quickly they moved to Deerfield. His log cabin was a bi-level house. There were five styles, built on cornfields, kind of crummy. But then they moved into a bigger house that was nice enough to make the Tribune Home of the Week.
After that, the family moved to Lake Forest. He told Felsenthal in an earlier interview that he’d attended public schools. “He mentioned two public schools in Deerfield but then didn’t tell me about Lake Forest. He deliberately kept it out. So he’s not a guy from nothing. After Dartmouth, he goes to Harvard Business School. He’s a double Ivy-League graduate.”
We ask Felsenthal if there’s reason to believe that a man who has made millions buying and selling companies is especially well-suited to run a government.
“Bruce Rauner has disdain for politicians that is somewhat out of control,” she tells us. “And politicians I’ve talked to, boy do they resent it.” Rauner, she says, doesn’t seem to care about politicians’ past accomplishments. “Bruce Rauner thinks you just erase that,” she continues. “You toss it in the garbage and you run the government like a business. And he won’t give you details about how he’s gonna do it and he said he wouldn’t have done that in a business situation either.”
As a business leader he was a tireless worker. And Felsenthal says he’s campaigning with the same energy, visiting scores of African-American churches in Chicago, Rockford and other places with the knowledge that in order to win he’ll have to peel off a portion of the black vote from Pat Quinn.
“He campaigns seven days a week. He never seems to be bored with it or tired of it. He loves campaigning. A great retail politician, loves answering questions, loves being in the center of attention.”
“Bruce Rauner is downstate all the time.” she adds. “Of course, he has Ken Griffin’s private plane, which is thousands of dollars in in-kind contributions.”
Political animals have wondered for a long time about how Rahm Emanuel’s personal friendship with Rauner will come into play in the Governor’s race. Felsenthal has her own theory.
“My belief is that Rahm Emanuel will be a happy guy if on November 5, what will likely be a close election ends up with Bruce Rauner the winner, because…I think that Rahm and Rauner would see themselves as two masters of the universe who, working together could really shake things up and change things.”
“There’s no love between Pat Quinn and Rahm Emanuel,” Felsenthal claims. “After that terrible Fourth of July weekend, (Quinn offered State Troopers to Chicago). Quinn said he’d be happy to do it, but he hadn’t talked to Rahm. Then later he realized how odd that sounded that the two wouldn’t be in constant contact, and he said, oh, we talk all the time. But, no they don’t.”
And does Rauner have higher aspirations than Governor?
“Sure, he wants to be president,” Felsenthal says. citing friends close to Rauner.
So in the end, does Felsenthal believe that Rauner would make an effective Governor?
“The thing that worries me about Bruce Rauner is he doesn’t like unprofitable. He likes to take something that’s unprofitable and turn it profitable. You can’t do that in government.”