Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mitt Romney, Bain and China

In last night's debate, the two nominees discussed China repeatedly in relation to foreign policy and economy-related matters.

Although President Barack Obama first brought up China in relation to clean energy development, it was former Governor Mitt Romney who first took a hard line mentioning that he would  'crack down' on the Chinese.

Romney and running mate Paul Ryan frequently refer to China in relation to the deficit and they often portray the country as an economic threat to America.

The pair have even accused the president of shipping jobs to China.

However, Romney's tough China stance appears at odds with his history at Bain & Company and its spinoff firm Bain Capital.  Both companies became involved in China investments and outsourcing. 

A recent AP article outlined Romney's connections with Bain & Company when it opened an office in Shanghai in 1993

At least seven Securities and Exchange Commission filings from May to December 1993 by Marriott International, Inc., where Romney served as a director, listed him as "chief executive officer of Bain & Company, Inc." A 1998 Sports Authority SEC filing said Romney was Bain's CEO and chairman to 1993 and a director to 1998. A March 1993 federal credit document obtained by Rolling Stone magazine listed him as Bain's "principal." A Boston Herald news story written in October 1993 by current Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom described him as Bain's chairman and former CEO.

At Bain Capital, Romney took a paid leave of absence in February 1999 to run the Salt Lake City Olympics, but he continued on officially as sole shareholder, managing director, CEO, and president.  He continued to sign documents for the company and to conduct other work for both Bain Capital and some of the companies that it controlled.

However, we should note while the Romney campaign has made much effort to separate Bain & Company from Bain Capital, evidence shows that the two companies worked together in building up foreign investment in China.

Two companies worked in China by mid-90s

A group of Bain & Company founders started Bain Capital in 1984.  Bain & Company itself was a major original investor in the new firm and, for a period, it received a share of Bain Capital's profits.  Initially, Bain & Company executives had the right to veto the spinoff firm's investments if there was a conflict of interest.

When Bain & Company experienced difficulties in the early 1990s, they even hired Romney back from Bain Capital to help get their house back in order.

Most importantly, the evidence points to Bain & Company helping foreign companies including Bain Capital find investments in China. 

When Bain & Company first opened an office in Shanghai, they became active in helping the country adapt to the free market system. In particular, they were involved with a high-level seminar focused on teaching Western capitalist principles and methods to Chinese firms.

During the seminar, Bain and Company will outline Western ways in enterprise valuation, mergers, and acquisitions, and in enterprise performance improvement.  The two sides will hold discussions on how Chinese enterprise can most effectively use foreign investments.

-- Daily Report, U.S. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Issues 229-239, 1993

According to The Asian Venture Capital Journal, Bain and Company was seeking foreign investments for Chinese firms by at least 1995 and one of the investors was Bain Capital.  

Bain's venture capital fund, Bain Capital, has so far directed its $50 million in investments entirely within the U.S. Yan admits that the firm's outlook on China is cautious. "I have seen a lot of deals that have a cash flow payback of less than two years, bu there are not a lot of them and those deals tend to be rather small."

--  The Asian Venture Capital Journal, Vol. 8, 1995, p. 26

Bain and Company VP Yan added that "half of the time we tell our clients not to invest in China."  Although, primarily a management consulting firm, the evidence shows that Bain & Company was also seeking foreign investments for Chinese firms.  

Indeed, by 1996, according to the U.S. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Bain and Company had attracted a substantial amount of foreign investment into the country.  How much of this came from Bain Capital is still unclear. 

"In the long run, our business focus on both foreign and multinational companies and Chinese firms will be two sides of a coin," said Rick Yan, vice-president of Bain Co Inc., which has been helping foreign businesses invest a combined 500 million U.S. Dollars in China since 1993."

-- -- Daily Report, U.S. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Issues 76-84, 1996

By 1998, groups like Bain & Company, the Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey and Company were actively working in China on various types of consulting including bringing in foreign investors.

"Our strategy is to work with Bain Capital and other direct investment funds to become equity partners of SOEs [state-owned enterprises] and work with them to turn around their performance through strategy development, management enhancement, and performance-based incentive systems."
-- Harvard China Review, vol. 1, 1998

Romney's hypocrisy

No matter how one looks at it, Mitt Romney was active with Bain & Company as director at least until 1998, and in various capacities with Bain Capital until 2002. 

For about a decade, he certainly knew about both companies' dealings in China.  So, it is a little strange that he should take such a hard line against a country that he and his partners helped to succeed in the Western free market system. 

1 comment:

Adam Grey said...

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