How will Americans feel about a candidate who made his fortune buying and selling companies? Polls show that the public has a low regard for Wall Street bankers, says Mr. Newport. Romney would be wise to brand himself as an entrepreneur, perhaps of a small business. “That works well,” Newport says.
But that would be changing history.
In the late 1970s, Romney, after graduating from Harvard Business School, went to work at consulting firm Bain & Co., founded by Bill Bain. The Bain method was for its consultants to become intimately familiar with its clients’ work and competitors, and even to make sure clients followed its advice.
In 1984, Mr. Bain offered Romney and other partners an opportunity to invest in companies and improve them using the Bain method, via a new firm called Bain Capital. With $37 million raised from private individuals – many of them Bain executives – the company under Romney’s leadership looked for firms to buy or invest in. One early investment was a startup called Staples, which was trying to become a national office supply store.
“In the venture area, if you hit two home runs you are golden,” says Joyce Greenberg, a partner in Coburn Greenberg Partners, a boutique investment-banking firm. “Bain Capital also made investments in traditional private equity in more mature companies, sometimes companies that were distressed, sometimes companies they thought would grow.”
The aim of any private equity firm is to invest money of its shareholders and maximize the return on their investments. It’s not to create jobs, though that can be an outcome. A private equity firm doesn’t provide a product or service itself, but it buys, owns, and sells companies that do. It can also play the role of venture capitalist.