Cleaning up the image of private equity


Mitt Romney during his days at Bain Capital. (Boston Globe/via Getty Images)
June 3, 2012

There was little doubt at the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, a D.C.-based lobbying group, that Mitt Romney’s run for the White House would place the industry under scrutiny. His years at the helm of private equity firm Bain Capital provided ample fodder for the campaign trail, with opponents looking to paint Romney as a corporate raider.

Rather than withering under criticism of private equity practices, the council is playing defense. Since February, the group has run a multimillion dollar campaign promoting private equity through advertising, cable news shows and its newly launched Web site, www.privateequityatwork.com.

Capital Business recently caught up with council president and chief executive Steve Judge to learn more about the campaign.

When did the council first discuss launching a campaign?

We started planning for how to be an active participant in the public dialogue last fall. We were ready to launch it in February, a little earlier than we thought because the public debate was accelerated in the Republican primaries. We anticipated it would be a little later in the year.

The challenge for us is that people don’t know a lot about private equity, so we have to fill that information void with really good concrete examples of private equity success. And that is where our new Web site comes in.

Can you give me an example of a private equity firm success?

We have six videos on our Web site highlighting several case studies. One of those videos highlights AxleTech, which is a regional manufacturer in Michigan of automobile parts. Under ownership by Carlyle Group for three years, they grew to be the largest supplier of axles to the military. They doubled their employment and sales, and were successfully sold to another company.

Another helpful part of the Web site is a white board video that really describes the private equity business model. It talks about how the purpose of private equity is to strengthen the companies that we own. We do that by trying to drive economic growth in companies that are poised to expand to the next level, or companies in need of a turnaround. The result is that investors, which are pension funds, endowments or other institutional investors, get superior returns from that effort.

What do you say to critics who say private equity firms are solely concerned with returns, and not the welfare of the company or its employees?

One of the things that we are trying to emphasize in our campaign is the fundamental alignment of interests which exists in private equity. What’s really key here is it’s in the interest of the company owned by the private equity firm, in the interest of the private equity firm and in the interest of the investors that at the end of the process the company is worth much more than when it was purchased. That only happens by bringing in capital the company needs, bringing in operational expertise, exposing it to new markets and providing a new strategy.

Do you have any other initiatives planned as a part of this effort?

One of the things we have increased our focus on is trying to use specific portfolio companies as examples in each congressional district of the benefits that private equity brings to those communities. We bring members of Congress out to visit those companies, and bring companies up to the Hill to meet with representatives and senators.

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