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TheStreet Open House

5 of Mitt Romney's Best Bain Capital Buys

WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- Mitt Romney has yet to make an impression on the Oval Office's upholstery, but he's left a mark on your pizza, office and bed.

While much of Romney's campaign will focus on his executive experience in the Massachusetts statehouse, the former Bay State governor and GOP presidential hopeful's calls as co-founder of Bain Capital have had a much bigger impact on the American consumer so far. The venture-capital-turned-leveraged-buyout firm helped fund Romney's personal fortune, believed to be between $190 million and $300 million, and provided $45 million of the $110 million he spent on his unsuccessful 2008 presidential run.

Sometimes the calls didn't quite work out, as was the case when Bain Capital and then-aspiring Senate candidate Romney bought American Pad & Paper Co. for $5 million in 1992. Bain charged Ampad advisory fees, used it to buy a few other office-supply makers and ran the company's debt from $11 million in 1993 to nearly $400 million in 1999. Meanwhile, it acquired an Ampad plant in Marion, Ill., in 1994 and shuttered the 200-worker facility the next year after workers held a strike over layoffs and pay cuts. The labor strife was used against Romney by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in the 1994 race for Kennedy's Senate seat and, though Romney gave Kennedy the toughest contest of his career, Romney lost by 18 points. The subsequent closing of a 185-worker Ampad plant in Buffalo, N.Y., despite a $50 million public stock offering only three years earlier (and Ampad's ensuing bankruptcy in 2000 and liquidation in 2001) made that transaction one of Romney's few regrets during the Bain years and the kind of thing he told The New York Times he would "be more sensitive" about if he could do it over again -- despite helping himself and Bain investors pocket $100 million from the deal.

When Romney's Bain decisions worked out, however, they did so in a big way. Back in 1986, the co-founder of a little office supply store in Boston's Brighton neighborhood went to Romney and convinced him there was a lot of money to be made selling desk chairs, copier paper and toner. Bain invested $2 million in the store that later became the Staples (SPLS) chain and got $13 million in return for its troubles. Today, Staples has an $11.8 billion market cap and looks like the best investment anyone's ever made in printer ink.

TheStreet took a look at Bain Capital's Romney-era investments and came up with five that had the biggest impact on American consumers. They may not say much about Romney as a candidate, but they're big, logo-laden signs of who he is as an investor and how he connects with the American buying public:

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