1. Bain in the spotlight:
Private equity firms like to be, uh, private. With the exception of mega-firms like Blackstone, Carlyle and KKR, we rarely read about them, and even in those cases the ink is typically confined to the business pages. However, as it become increasingly likely that the founder of Bain Capital is going to be the Republican presidential nominee, a bright spotlight is likely to turn on Bain.
A smart story about Bain — which is one of the most successful, hardest driving firms in the industry — would start with the culture and business strategies Romney tried to instill as its founder. What kind of reputation did the firm have (and does it now have) for how it behaves at the deal table? Is its handshake good? Does it push too hard, or not hard enough? Are there certain types of businesses that it has avoided for strategic or civic reasons, such as tobacco companies? Did it and does it have any distinctive characteristics when it comes to minority hiring, treatment of women, and charitable, civic or public service activities? (I’m thinking about that because of Romney’s own record, he says, of tithing 10% of his annual income.)
Does Bain have any especially aggressive policies with regard to tax avoidance or labor relations when it comes to the companies it controls? Are there any issues related to the sources of its funds, such as taking money from sovereign funds of rogue countries? Have any limited partner investors ever sued? If so, for what? (I doubt this is a sore spot, because from what I’ve heard its results have been good and its investors happy.)
And what businesses does it now own that could present conflicts for a President Romney if he still holds an interest in those investments? One would be the giant Clear Channel radio station chain, which perpetually faces regulatory issues.
Finally, how many Bain partners are listed on the 2008 lists of John McCain and Barack Obama contributors, not to mention the 2012 lists of the current candidates?