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American Parasite: Romney's Bain Represents Capitalism's Worst 

Wednesday, Apr 18 2012
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Page 3 of 4

That feeling is shared by Steven Kaplan, among the foremost scholars in the field. The University of Chicago finance professor says that, statistically speaking, firms like Bain improve a company's cash flow while providing investors with a better return than the stock market.

There's no question that Romney had a gift for minting money. In 1986, he bought medical-equipment manufacturer Calumet Coach for just $1 million, later flipping it for $34 million. He made 16 times his initial investment in the Gartner Group, a technology research firm.

In what was perhaps his crowning achievement, he bought a money-losing Wesley Jessen Vision Care for $6 million in 1994. Seven years later, it was sold for a dazzling $300 million.

Kaplan argues that critics rarely mention these success stories, preferring to "cherry-pick" deals that paint Romney as unmerciful and gluttonous. "I think it's quite unfair," he says. "He was extremely successful at Bain generating returns for his investors. Bain Capital had a tremendous track record. When you invest in dozens of companies, some of those deals don't work out."

But if critics are quick to disregard Romney's triumphs, defenders are equally swift to rationalize his catastrophes. They'll note that for all Romney's bankruptcies, most were rescued by new companies and survive today. It's the final dollar tally that matters.

Yet they seem strangely incurious about the ruin he's delivered across the country. Take Kansas City, for example.

The Armco plant closing involved more than the torching of 750 jobs, says Morrow. Contractors and suppliers collapsed. Workers' children and widows lost health care and pension benefits. And while Bain received millions in tax breaks — paid for by the very people left holding the bag — Romney walked away millions richer.

So one might forgive everyday Americans for feeling they're on the wrong end of a rigged game, one in which the wealthy always win — no matter how inept — and the little guy is left to hack through the debris.

Bain is a private company, meaning it has no obligation to reveal its practices. It's never made public a list of companies it's purchased. (Nor would Bain or the Romney campaign comment for this story.)

In January, the Wall Street Journal did its best to piece together Romney's track record, reviewing 77 investments made under his direction. It turned out that nearly one in three of the companies experienced severe financial trouble. One in five wound up in bankruptcy.

The more telling figure: Of Romney's 10 biggest moneymakers, he ultimately destroyed four of them, leaving bankruptcy judges to clean up the mess.

As Foster sees it, Romney was an early pioneer of gaming the system. It would take another decade before large banks used many of the same principles to detonate the mortgage industry.

"The great irony is that his entire management experience at Bain Capital is buying companies and loading them up with debt and then looting the balance sheet," Foster says. "It's the very model that drove the American economy off the cliff, then left other people to manage the wreckage."


The Job Assassin

Renee Fry doesn't recognize the tin man she sees on TV, the candidate so congenitally wooden that he makes Al Gore seem like Flavor Flav. She was Romney's deputy chief of staff when he was governor of Massachusetts. The guy she served was warm and considerate, quick to distill data and seize the big picture.

"I'm lucky because I know him from the day-to-day Mitt," Fry says. "He liked going out and talking to people and learning from people. The Mitt I know had a real appreciation for people."

But if Romney played the friendly politician, kindness wasn't his specialty at Bain. He was generous to ranking executives, rewarding CEOs with huge bonuses. Yet he tended to treat those below his pay grade as little more than machinery.

Romney has repeatedly claimed to have created 100,000 jobs at Bain, and says that providing work for Americans was a primary company goal.

He makes his case by citing Domino's, Sports Authority, and Staples, companies that added jobs after Bain bought in.

But Bain bought Domino's just months before Romney left to run the Salt Lake City Olympics, meaning someone else created those jobs. And he didn't manage Staples or Sports Authority; Bain was a minority investor in both.

By Romney's logic, any large investor — say, the Texas teachers' pension fund — also creates hundreds of thousands of jobs. The boast is so foolish that his campaign has since backed away from it.

Even Kaplan admits that private equity firms rarely create jobs. Workers are seen as costs, and costs are the enemy. According to Kosman, Romney was in truth among the most heinous job killers of them all.

While writing his book, Kosman conducted an interview with a Bain managing partner. The man told him that when Bain was about to buy a company, its partners would hold a meeting. "He said that about half the time [they] would talk about cutting workers," says Kosman. "They would never talk about adding workers. He said that job growth was never part of the plan."

That claim was buttressed by the Associated Press, which studied 45 companies bought by Bain during Romney's first decade. It found that 4,000 workers lost their jobs. The real figure is likely thousands higher, since the analysis didn't account for bankruptcies or factory or store closings.

An example of Romney's cold-blooded approach is his 1994 purchase of Dade International, an Illinois medical-equipment company. He soon merged it with two similar firms, a move that tripled sales.

Once again, he couldn't help but raid the vault, peeling away $100 million for himself and investors at the same time Dade was laying off 1,700 American workers.

After Bain closed a Dade plant in Puerto Rico, Human Resources Manager Cindy Hewitt was asked to lure a dozen of those employees to work in the company's Miami factory.

About The Author

Pete Kotz

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