To the private equity market, Stephen Pagliuca is known as among the most vocal of the otherwise highly private cluster of partners who control Bain Capital. Residents of Massachusetts who have heard of Pagliuca more likely know him as the co-owner of the Boston Celtics basketball team.
But in the weeks leading up to an 8 December primary election, he will be known as one of three Democratic candidates for the US Senate seat vacated by the death of Ted Kennedy. Announcing his candidacy on the floor of the Celtics basketball arena, he dismissed the notion that he was attempting to “buy” the election, but added: “I made more money than I ever thought I would. I thought it was time to give back.”
In order to make it to the Senate, Pagliuca will first have to beat the well known state attorney general and a US Congressman. Then he will have to beat the Republican candidate, which in heavily Democratic Massachusetts won't be as difficult.
He is betting that his business credentials and deep knowledge of the healthcare industry will convince voters he is the right man for the job. He will also have to play down the core business of Bain Capital – buyouts, which the public generally doesn't think of as positive endeavours. Like Bain Capital founder Mitt Romney during his own several candidacies, including a run for the White House, Pagliuca wants to be thought of as a “venture capitalist” who builds companies.
His opponents will likely think of other descriptions for Pagliuca. But the Bain veteran has another key asset – a razor-sharp wit, developed from years of deflecting the jibes of co-workers. If a guy can come off Bain with a smile, he can make it through a Democratic primary in Massachusetts in fine form.