One way that Romney’s supporters have helped his political standing is by assisting in the time-honored political tradition of rewriting the candidate’s history: inflating the accomplishments and minimizing the failures. In painting himself as the brilliant investor of Bain Capital, the savior of the doomed Olympics, and the leader of a Massachusetts revitalization, Romney has had plenty of helpful testimony from his friends.
One of Romney’s most lucrative symbiotic relationships has been with Thomas Stemberg, founder of Staples. Not only has Stemberg helped make Romney and Bain Capital a lot of money, he has given Romney something even more valuable: his reputation as a brilliant businessman.
As Stemberg, Romney, and other Bain veterans tell the story, other venture capitalists pooh-poohed Stemberg’s idea, back in 1986, that there was money to be made in office supplies. Romney, on the other hand, did his homework and saw the potential profits. Romney gave Stemberg his start-up money, and the rest is history.
As with much in the life of Romney, this is revisionist history, according to others who were involved in the Staples funding — and media sources from the time.
There was no shortage of investors looking to get in on the Staples deal; quite the opposite. “Dozens of offers poured in” from venture capitalists, Inc. magazine wrote in a 1989 feature article. “Stemberg turned most of the suitors away.” Bain Capital committed a relatively modest sum — just a tenth of the total that Stemberg raised — and cashed out early, after the 1989 initial public offering.
If anything, suggests one participant with Bessemer Capital, which invested in Staples at the time, Stemberg did Romney a favor by allowing him in on the deal — possibly at the behest of their mutual friend, former Bain employee and current eBay CEO Meg Whitman.
Romney certainly treated Stemberg well thereafter from his position on the Staples board of directors, helping grant ever greater bounties of stock on the founder/CEO. According to one source, Romney even helped force out directors who fought such grants.