How Mitt Romney’s Bain ‘Harvested’ Sealy Mattress Company
At Wednesday night’s presidential debate Mitt Romney will no doubt brag about how, as head of Bain Capital, he built businesses.
On his website, Romney says, “In addition to Staples, Bain Capital went on to help launch or acquire Domino’s Pizza, Sealy, Brookstone, and The Sports Authority.”
However, as of last week he’d be unwise to cite Sealy, once America’s biggest mattress brand.
Relative upstart Tempur-Pedic agreed to buy Sealy this week for $2.20 a share, paying less than $250 million for its stock and assuming its $750 million debt.
Sealy executives told me this week that Tempur-Pedic, with its “memory foam” beds, is like the Starbucks of the bedding industry, and there was no stopping its rise. But that’s not the full story.
Mitt Romney’s Bain led a $791 million buyout of Sealy in 1997, putting $140 million down and, in typical private-equity fashion, having Sealy borrow the remaining $651 million to finance the deal and assume responsibility for paying it back.
Companies like Bain Capital call themselves private equity firms, but as I explained in my book “The Buyout of America” they really provide no equity. They make money by putting businesses at risk. They say they turn struggling businesses around. But Sealy was not a turnaround — it was the market leader in its sector.
Romney first tried to boost Sealy’s profits, so it could pay its debt, by acquiring one of Sealy’s biggest retail customers, Mattress Discounters. But MD expanded too quickly and went bankrupt.