Advent International

Fact-checking private equity spin in Massachusetts Senate debate

June 19, 2013: 3:16 PM ET

gomez-markey-debateMassachusetts voters heard a lot about private equity last night, but not all of it was accurate.

FORTUNE -- Gabriel Gomez and Ed Markey squared off last night in the final debate before next Tuesday's special election in Massachusetts, the winner of which will fill out the remainder of John Kerry's term as a U.S. Senator. And, unlike in the prior two debates, there was significant discussion of Gomez's career in private equity.

Unfortunately, none of it was terribly helpful for those in search of actual information. Gomez oscillated between evasion and spin, leaving voters either wanting more or believing in a false narrative. Markey, on the other hand, displayed the ignorance of a schoolboy who forgot to study for the big test. Hopefully he does a bit more search on issues before him in the Congress.

Anyway, here's an analysis of what was said last night vis-a-vis Gomez and private equity. Here was the first substantive exchange:

MARKEY: Again, Mr. Gomez keeps mentioning his private sector experience. You've asked him. Who were his clients? How many jobs were created? Is he's running as a businessman. And you asked him the question, and he did not answer it. We need to know Mr. Gomez, who you worked for. What kind of jobs were created. And we still haven't received that answer.

GOMEZ: If Congressman Markey wants to compare resumes, I'm more than happy. If you knew what private equity was, we don't have clients. It's that simple. They're public service employees. Hundreds of thousands right here in Massachusetts. Firefighters, police officers, teachers. And even President Obama is an investor at Advent International, congressman. That's who our investors are. We don't have clients. If you want to compare resumes, let's compare resumes head-to-head. I'll compare my military record to yours. And I'm more than happy to compare my last 16 years in the private sector on exactly who has created value and who has created jobs that compare to you, sir. And I'll tell you one thing, sir. President Obama would not be an investor if we racked up 17 trillion dollars in debt

MARKEY: Again, we still don't know what Mr. Gomez did. We don't know which clients specifically he worked for. We still don't know which results he specifically got for any of these people who he has just mentioned. He still has refused to make his own private sector record public so that we can determine whether or not all those things you just said are, in fact, true.

GOMEZ: R.D., this is exactly -- he's mirroring exactly what his ads are, and they're misrepresenting because you don't understand. We don't have clients, Congressman Markey. We have investors and we have done fellow well with investors. President Obama wouldn't be an investor in our fund if we weren't one of the best investors over the last ten years. If you want to name some companies, sure, Lululemon. Ask anybody out in the state of Massachusetts, how many stores we have opened, we made a Canadian company into an American company, Congressman. We went from less than a dozen stores here to over 200 stores. Thousands of jobs. 

Gomez is right that private equity firms don't have "clients," such as a law firm or consulting firm would have. They have investors, also known as limited partners, to whom they are ultimately responsible. But I'm pretty sure Markey was actually interested in the names of Advent International portfolio companies with which Gomez worked, and what he specifically did with them (although Markey proved utterly unable to articulate that request).

As we're previously discussed, Gomez primarily worked in a business development role with Advent -- rather than in a deal-making role -- and he has provided precious few details about which of Advent's hundreds of portfolio companies he worked with. As for Lululemon, I'm not exactly sure how he "made a Canadian company into an American company." Pretty sure Lululemon remains headquartered in Vancouver, even if the majority of its stores and jobs are south of the border.

MARKEY: Thank you. The "Boston Globe" had a big story. It said that Mr. Gomez was on the board of directors of two companies, including one which was in Peabody, Massachusetts, which laid off people and then sent those jobs overseas. And that then federal assistance had to come in and help those workers. So my question to Mr. Gomez is this: were those the only two companies that he served on their board? And wasn't there a way to keep the jobs here in Peabody, Massachusetts? 

GOMEZ: Congressman, this is another example of somebody having private sector experience and actually doing something here in Massachusetts, sir. But you know, that company that you mention, the one in Peabody, Synventive. It serviced the automotive industry, and during that time the automotive industry here in the United States was going through a depression in the cycle. And there was a lot of growth over in the Far East. So that's obviously where the operations grew. If you look at it today, now that the economic cycle has turned around and the automotive industry has rebounded, is doing better here in Peabody. And if we wouldn't have done what we did, that company wouldn't be around today, sir, which is in our state of Massachusetts. We preserved the jobs, grew the retirement funds of the police officers, the firefighters and the teachers, hundreds of thousands right here in Massachusetts, Congressman. And also for President Obama. So you should ask President Obama, he was here last week with you, if he was happy with what we have done over at Advent International. And like I said, I think if we had accumulated $17 trillion in debt, Congressman, I don't think he would be an investor. But now I know that -- I'm just going to put your words in your own mouth. This isn't math, sir, it's arithmetic. 

Markey could have learned that Gomez represented Advent on a total of five boards, had he just done a quick Google search. He also could have learned that while Synventive has indeed turned things around, the deal actually lost money for Advent and its investors (kind of notable, since it's the only deal Gomez led while at Advent). He also might have pointed out that automotive is only one of many markets that Synventive serves.

Then there is this whole issue about President Obama investing in Advent International. I assume Gomez is referring to the fact that Obama has a public retirement pension account in Illinois from his time as a state senator. Two points about that: (1) President Obama does not have any decision-making authority over what investments the Illinois State Board of Investments does or doesn't make. Even if President Obama despised Advent International, he'd likely still be an "investor." (2) The Illinois State Board of Investments did not invest in the Advent International fund that sponsored Synventive.

GOMEZ: As I said -- You should have asked President Obama what he thinks about Advent International, Congressman. And I've served on the board of Synventive. I've served on the board of Keystone, served on the board of American Radiology, served on the board of Kirkland's. All these companies that have done phenomenally well. And we have done well for the public sector employees here. 

Kirkland's did not do "phenomenally well" during the time Gomez was on its board of directors, as we detailed yesterday. Gomez is correct, however, that Advent International has produced strong returns for public pensioners in Massachusetts. The state's largest retirement system currently is invested in six different Advent funds, with a 22.5% average internal rate of return (IRR) through the end of 2012.

Beyond that, it probably is worth noting that Gomez said a change to the tax treatment of carried interest should be "on the table," although he stopped short of endorsing such a switch.

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