Jed Lewison
Daily Kos

January 26, 2012

Via McKay Coppins, you can add The Miami Herald to the list of people and organizations who Mitt Romney says are attacking free enterprise. That’s because today’s edition takes a look at how Bain Capital “earned” $342 million from investing $30 million in the acquisition of medical technology firm named Dade International. Despite profiting by hundreds of millions of dollars from the deal, Romney’s company led Dade to bankruptcy, laying off thousands of workers throughout the country—including 850 in Miami alone.

The Herald’s story focuses on the impacts of Bain’s business practices on Florida, but it’s worth going back to this The New York Times article from November. According to The Times, Bain led a group of investors who acquired the company for $450 million in 1994. Bain’s share of the price tag: $30 million. Then:

By 1998, Mr. Romney and his restless colleagues at Bain began looking for a way to cash out of the firm’s investment in Dade.A hefty offer arrived. Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company, a rival buyout firm, proposed buying Dade Behring for $1.9 billion, according to documents filed in the bankruptcy case. But Bain executives rejected it, disappointed by the price, the documents indicate.

Bain settled on a common tactic in private equity: In April 1999, it pushed Dade to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to buy half of Bain’s shares in the company — and half of those of its investment partners.

Bain pocketed the $242 million. Goldman received $121 million. Top Dade executives got $55 million, records show. The total payout to shareholders reached $420 million — nearly as much as the purchase price for Dade.

In addition to the $242 million, Bain took $100 million in management fees for running the company. But despite their $342 million payday, Bain led Dade directly into bankruptcy:

The strategy of sharply increasing Dade’s debt alarmed several executives. Mr. Garrett, the former chief executive of Dade who stood to gain from the transaction, said he had argued unsuccessfully against it.“It was too aggressive,” Mr. Garrett said. “It was done right up to the limit of what the company could borrow.”

With the amount of money that Dade owed to creditors and vendors at nearly $2 billion, some executives worried that the company would have little maneuvering room if its financial situation suddenly deteriorated.

Soon enough, it did. Interest rates rose, increasing Dade’s debt payments. The value of the euro, then a new currency, slid, reducing Dade’s European revenue. And a new distribution center had unexpected delays.

Creditors, unsettled by deteriorating finances and high debts, began to pounce. More layoffs followed. And in August of 2002, Dade filed for bankruptcy protection.

Bain ultimately relinquished its ownership claim, but it had already taken $342 million out of company, an 11-fold return on its $30 million investment in less than eight years. Fortunately, the bankruptcy didn’t destroy the company, which emerged from bankruptcy and has prospered since Bain gave up its ownership stake. But even though Dade is now a successful company, its success comes despite Bain Capital—not because of it.

Obviously, the story is timely because of the upcoming Florida primary and the fact that nearly one thousand Floridians lost their jobs as Bain bankrupted the firm, but if Romney gets the nomination, it won’t simply fade away. Perhaps he can convince Republicans that questioning how he managed to “earn” $342 million while bankrupting a company is the same thing as assaulting free enterprise, but he won’t be able to convince Americans of that. And given that Mitt Romney cites his private sector experience as the number one reason why he should be president, that’s a big problem for Mitt Romney to have.

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