But exactly how wealthy is Romney? The figure that gets tossed around is $250 million in net worth — meaning the total value of his assets, financial and others, minus any debts.
It’s a big number, but frankly, it seems low. Given the industry in which he made his fortune (private equity), the era when he made it (the 1980s and 1990s) and the wealth of his peers in that business (mostly billionaires), Romney should be worth a good bit more than that.
Why isn’t he?
No surprise, Romney has not made it easy to figure out the precise size of his fortune, and any inferences drawn from the available data are necessarily speculative — yet they still, I think, say something about the man who would be president.
We know that Romney’s fortune derives in large part from his founding in 1984 of Bain Capital, one of the premier private-equity firms in the world, which he ran for the next 15 years or so, during a boom time for the industry. Among Bain’s most successful investments are those in well-known companies such as Staples, Domino’s Pizza, Dunkin’ Donuts and the Weather Channel. Others include lesser-known enterprises such as Experian, an information-services company that Bain bought (with Thomas H. Lee Company, another Boston-based buyout firm) for $1 billion in 1996 and sold months laterfor a profit of $700 million; and Seat Pagine Gialle, an Italian yellow-pages business whose investors, including Bain, made $1 billion in profits after two years.
We also know that Bain was supposedly so successful under Romney’s leadership that the firm was able to charge its investors fees 50 percent higher than those of its competitors. Instead of the typical industry fee of 2 percent of the cash under management and 20 percent of the profits on individual deals, Romney extracted from investors a 3 percent fee and 30 percent of profits for the privilege of investing in Bain’s deals. Sophisticated investors — pension funds, university endowments and large foundations — that put money in private equity don’t do this kind of thing willingly. They did it at Bain because they believed it was worth the price to get into the deals.
And finally, we know that the other people who founded private-equity firms around the same time that Romney and his partners started Bain, and who had to make do with a lower fee structure, are far richer than Romney. These men — Henry Kravis and his cousin George Roberts, the founders of KKR & Co.; the late Teddy Forstmann, the founder of Forstmann Little; David Bonderman and Jim Coulter, the founders of TPG Capital; Leon Black, the founder of Apollo Global Management; Steve Schwarzman and Pete Peterson, the founders of the Blackstone Group; David Rubenstein, the founder of the Carlyle Group; and Jonathan Nelson, the founder of Providence Equity Partners — each have a net worth measured in the billions. Schwarzman, with a fortune greater than $5 billion, is the wealthiest buyout mogul, according to the latest Forbes 400 list.