Private equity firms: Job creators or job destroyers?

Jeff Horwich Jul 16, 2012
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Private equity firms: Job creators or job destroyers?

Jeff Horwich Jul 16, 2012
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Jeff Horwich: We’ll likely hear more this week about when, exactly, Mitt Romney left his top job at Bain Capital. But here’s the big Bain-related question that will persist, even after that one’s old news: Job creator, or job destroyer? And that question’s bigger than Bain, bigger than Romney — bigger than any one election.

Fortune magazine senior editor-at-large Allan Sloan’s been thinking about it, and he’s here with me now. Hello Allan.

Allan Sloan: My pleasure Jeff.

Horwich: First of all, Bain Capital — it’s one of a breed of firms, these leveraged buyout or private equity outfits. In a general sense, what do these companies do?

Sloan: These companies buy companies using a lot of borrowed money, and then try to sell them a few years down the road for more than they paid for it.

Horwich: And we should be clear, these companies — like, let’s be honest, all private companies — exist largely to make a profit, right?

Sloan: Right. Well these buyout companies — which call themselves now private equity, because that’s a classier term — the buyout companies exist, as I write in Fortune, to make money for their investors, and for themselves — not necessarily in that order.

Horwich: So Allan — job creators or job destroyers? You are the senior editor-at-large here, you ought to have the venerability to be the referee on this. What do you say?

Sloan: Well, the answer is: nobody has any reliable job statistics, because nobody wants to know. If you’re running a buyout company, and you can make more money expanding something you’ve bought, well, you’ll do that and happily add jobs. If you make more money loading up the company with debt and taking a payment out, putting everyone at risk, well, you do that. And finally, if it turns out there’s an extra three cents to be made by closing the whole company and moving the operations to China, you’ll do that too.

They don’t care. They’re not bad people; they’re not moral, they’re not immoral. They’re what’s known as amoral — they’re in it for the money, and there are no statistics because nobody wants there to be any statistics, so nobody keeps them.

Horwich: Well, we put an end to this debate here today, haven’t we, Allan?

Sloan: Heaven willing, we have — but I wouldn’t bet your salary on it.

Horwich: Allan Sloan. More on this topic in his upcoming Fortune column. Thank you very much.

Sloan: My pleasure Jeff.

 

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