President Joe Biden’s new chief of staff, Jeff Zients, is a centimillionaire businessman who, like the failed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, got his start as a consultant at Bain Consulting. (For Romney and Bain, in Biden’s telling, that was just a pit stop on the road to putting Americans “through hell and back.”)
Zients will take over for Ron Klain in February. The former head of the White House’s COVID response, Zients amassed a vast fortune working for Bain & Company and other management consulting firms. But at Bain, according to the Wall Street Journal, Zients “fell in love with Bain’s culture, teamwork … and analytical rigor.” By age 35, his estimated net worth was nearly $150 million.
Zients’s appointment is riddled with irony. Biden’s role in the 2012 presidential election, when he served as former president Barack Obama’s running mate, was to attack Romney, the Republican nominee. Like Zients, Romney began his business career at Bain & Company before serving as CEO of Bain Capital, a private equity company he cofounded with Bill Bain.
But unlike Zients, Romney’s association with Bain and wealth was the subject of Biden’s vituperation. At campaign stops throughout the country, the then-vice president accused Romney of unethical business practices in an attempt to paint him as untrustworthy and out of touch. Bain Capital, Biden claimed, was in part responsible for the decline in domestic manufacturing over the past half century.
“There’s Romney economics, which says as long as the government helps the guys at the very top do well, workers and small businesses and communities can be left to fend for themselves,” Biden told an Ohio audience in May 2012. “You’ve been through hell and back. Outsourcing. Padlocked plants. How many times have you opened your newspaper to find out another factory was closing down? And you probably knew someone who worked there too. Or maybe it was you.”
Zients’s financial disclosures show that he has parked a significant portion of his wealth in gold, a traditional hedge against inflation: He owns as much as $5 million in gold bars and as much as $25 million in a security tied to the value of gold. Under Biden, inflation has hit a 40-year high.
As a straight white male, Zients’s appointment is expected to “disappoint some Democrats,” according to Politico. Biden has promised to oversee the most diverse cabinet in U.S. history.