Of course, some haggling over price is typical in any sale, and not everything represented by sellers and their bankers is found to be accurate under close examination. But Bain Capital took the art of negotiation over price into the scientific realm. Once the competitive dynamics had shifted definitively in its favor, the firm’s genuine views about what it was willing to pay — often far lower than first indicated — would be revealed.
At such a late date, of course, the seller is more than a little pregnant with the buyer. Attempting to pivot and find a new buyer — which knew it had not been selected in the first place, but was now being called back — would be devastating to the carefully constructed process designed to generate the highest price. Once Bain’s real thoughts about the price were revealed, the seller either had to suck it up and accept the lower price, or negotiate with a new buyer, but with far less leverage.
Needless to say, this does not make for a very happy client (or a happy banker). By the end of my days on Wall Street in 2004, I found the real Bain way so counterproductive that I no longer included Bain Capital on my buyer’s lists of private-equity firms for a company I was selling.
The real Bain way may be nothing more than a clever tactic to eliminate competition from a heated auction in order to buy a business at an attractive price.