When most Utahns hear the name Mitt Romney, if they associate it with anything, they associate it with the LDS Republican who gave Sen. Edward Kennedy a political scare a few years ago in a race for one of the U.S. Senate seats in Massachusetts.
But for a pair of Utah firms, the name is equated with a kind of Midas touch. Romney's Bain Capital has helped provide investment to grow the business of Park City-based Nutraceutical International Corp. and Logan-based Icon Health and Fitness Inc.Romney, who visited Utah recently to help add the name of his father, George W. Romney, to BYU's Institute of Public Management, said his Boston-based firm has married an eye for a good investment with strategic planners that help to power business growth.
"A lot of people in the investing business have been skilled financially at investing money. At the same time there are a lot of other people who are not financial wizards, but are operations and strategic and visionary wizards," Romney said.
Romney's team sees ways to create value not just by financing but by building the value of the underlying business through acquisitions and other means.
Icon and Nutraceutical are among 120 investments ranging from office products chain Staples to the Italian yellow pages that Bain Capital has help grow. Romney estimates the firm has grown about $15 million in investments to about $120 million in revenues.
The Boston Globe reported that the annual return on investments of Bain Capital is "somewhere north of 100 percent."
The investments are fueled by a private equity fund, which draws capital from colleges, foundations and endowments, Romney said.
"We use that money to acquire businesses that we thought we'd grow and make more valuable. When we started we said we weren't just going to use the money by trading in futures or in the stock market. Instead we would acquire the business and work with the management to make that business more valuable," Romney said.
For example, Bain saw an opportunity for Nutraceutical to put many small and disjointed health food businesses together in a much larger health food, vitamin and nutritional supplement company. Through acquisitions, the company claims to be one of the largest manufacturers and marketers of nutritional supplements sold in health food stores.
The company was formed in 1993 and went public in December. Bain Capital continues to hold controlling interest. Net sales increased by $3.5 million, or 15.6 percent, to $25.9 million during the last three months of 1997. While initial public offering fueled a rise in stock price, it has been declining recently.
Privately held Icon's $1-billion business includes a diverse line of health and fitness products including treadmills, elliptical machines, exercise riders, stationary bikes, weight benches and systems and spas.
Bain Capital frequently shops for deals. In the past, Romney had looked at investments in Novell and WordPerfect, but neither panned out.
Romney said that Bain Capital helps firms focus on getting past unprofitable practices.
"I think something happens to us when we get into the business world. You become inoculated against common sense and if you stay too long in any organization, you begin thinking like that organization," Romney said.
"In the business world, people persist in doing things that don't make a lot of sense, and frankly a lot of what we have been able to do is invest in business and stop doing some of the silly things that may have been done in the past and try some pretty bold aggressive strategies. And often times they work."
As with his investments, Romney still likes the bold approach in civic life. Since his challenge of Sen. Edward Kennedy - something he said was always considered a long shot - he has taken on Steve Forbes and flat tax proposal, spending $50,000 to take out newspaper ads to criticize the plan.
He says he's still looking for a presidential candidate to support. The American presidency needs a restoration of integrity, Romney said. He said that people should be totally devoted to principle and be true to the things they believe most deeply.
He also attempts to carry on his father's advocacy of voluntarism. Most may not realize that the recent volunteer summit, hosted by President Clinton in Philadelphia, was the brainchild George Romney. The elder Romney proposed the idea after helping start such organizations as the Points of Light Foundation and Volunteer.
"The idea behind these organizations was to encourage more people to spend time serving one another. He was absolutely convinced that government could not solve all of our problems, business couldn't solve all of our problems, and ultimately America is great because its people are great and that people serving people was the answer. . . . His passion was to see if he couldn't more people involved in voluntarism," Romney said.