Three Things We Learned from Romney's '91 Testimony

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When 21-year-old, sealed testimony by the Republican presidential nominee from his friend's heated divorce case is unsealed 11 days before a presidential election, interests are understandably piqued.

Gloria Allred, the attorney representing Romney's friend's ex-wife, said the 430 pages of Romney testimony wouldn't mean much without her client's context to explain what is hidden.

Read more about the case that unsealed the testimony here.

Those secrets will apparently stay secret, because the judge who unsealed Romney's testimony in the divorce case between Staples founder Tom Stemberg and Maureen Sullivan Stemberg did not remove the confidentiality agreement surrounding the case.

But there are a few things to learn from the words themselves about Mitt Romney circa 1991.

All About Bain

A good portion of the testimony features Mitt Romney answering questions about himself.

Romney goes into detail about the differences between the distinct "Bain" companies (Bain Venture Capital, Bain Capital Partners, and Bain & Company, Inc. ) and his role in them.

First, there was Bain and Company, Inc., a consulting firm that advised customers on how to invest their money. Romney worked there from 1977 to 1984 and had started working there again as CEO just a few weeks before giving his testimony in 1991.

He helped found Bain Venture Capital and Bain Capital Partners in 1984 and continued working for them as managing general partner while he rejoined Bain and Co.

Romney said the purpose of the capital firms was to "raise cash from wealthy institutions and individuals, and we invest money in start-up companies or in acquiring companies." The shared name was "for marketing purposes," Romney said.

"They are separate legally, and from an ownership standpoint they are separate," Romney told the court.

The Man Can Juggle

Not literally, as far as we know, but Romney's testimony demonstrated an ability to simultaneously handle multiple high-level positions, at times with competing interests, starting in graduate school at Harvard, when he studied both law and business between 1971 and 1975.

According to the story Romney told on the stand, there came a point in Staples' beginning days when Romney found himself in what others might consider a tight spot. He was both one of Staples' board members and part of the team of investors deciding how much money to put into the company. While negotiating how much to pay for shares of the company, Romney said, board members want the highest price possible while investors want the lowest.

"You really have a conflicting position on the board," the judge said to Romney at that point.

"That's right," Romney replied.

"You want the company to get enough capital to succeed; on the other hand, you don't want to have to pay top dollar for your additional investment," the judge said.

"That's right," Romney said. "There is that concern."

Romney's answer to that conflict was to get the highest price possible so that other investors would see that and judge the new company accordingly.

Romney's Fastidious Nature

The 1991 Romney appeared to be pretty detail-oriented. His explanations of his decision-making process showed caution.

When assessing the investment in Staples during the company's first months, he said he solicited stories from friends about their experiences at the stores there. Not content with the bottom line, he wanted to know about the wait time at the checkout counter.

And no matter what, he always had a plan B.

"There's always - at least in the case of our fund, and I'm sure most funds - there's always an assessment: If this works, how will we realize our investment? How will we get out," Romney said.

For many companies, Romney said, the way out was to make it "either wound down or liquidated in some way, broken apart with pieces being sold or liquidated, or perhaps sold at a disadvantageous price."

What Does It All Mean?

As Allred said Thursday, the transcripts "don't mean much" without whatever context Sullivan Stemberg might provide. But they do give a reason to revisit Romney the businessman.

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