Earlier this week internationally known household brand Shea Moisture announced a new partnership with Bain Capital.
Yes, Mitt Romney’s Bain.
Although details are still unfurling, this much we do know:
– Bain Capital is a minority, non-controlling investor in Sundial Brands (the umbrella brand under which both Shea Moisture and Nubian Heritage fall)
– Richielou Dennis is still CEO, and his other family members still remain in their respective executive positions (Chief Operations Officer, Treasurer, Chief Innovations Officer)
– Shea Moisture is still a majority family owned company
Like many fellow naturalistas, I thought I was having a nightmare when I read stories from Wall Street Journal and Clutch Magazine. This absolutely cannot be Carol’s Daughter 2.0. The first words that came out of my mouth were, “Damn, can we have anything?”
I found that I was not alone. Across social media, discussions popped up questioning the move, and emotions ran the gamut of the spectrum – from encouraging and congratulatory, to suspicious, hurt and disappointed. At first, I was upset. Then, after listening to Richielou Dennis’ Hangout, I was less disappointed. After doing some digging on Bain Capital, I got a little concerned. And that’s where I am now – accepting, but with some heavy reservations.
Off the cuff, I appreciate Dennis and Shea Moisture’s transparency in the deal. Not only did they release a statement via Facebook (and they’ve been incredibly responsive in the comment section), Dennis hopped on a Google+ Hangout with Naturally Curly founder and CEO Michelle Bryer, where he tackled the tough questions and top concerns with an honesty and poise that came across as thoughtful and sincere. I detected a hint of shade toward another brand that sold out earlier in 2014 (which made me chuckle), but I appreciated Dennis’ ability to articulate the difference in how Sundial is handling the matter.
The Hangout can be viewed below but here are some cliffs notes I grabbed from watching:
Sundial has been courted by many businesses seeking to invest and/or buy them out, but they chose Bain because they are a partner with a proven record of supporting mission-driven business.
Shea Moisture has not been sold or bought out. The family still owns the majority and controls executive and day-to-day operations.
There will be no formula changes in products because they make their own products and control all of their own manufacturing. They are already the lowest cost manufacturer in their industry, so there is no benefit in switching manufacturers (the most common reason for formulation changes).
The company understands the criticism, due to what Black consumers have experienced in the marketplace before. Bringing on an investor does not mean Sundial will be abandoning their core customers. It allows them to compete on a broader scale against other multi-national corporations who didn’t pay attention to the beauty needs of Black women until very recently. Again, they are not abandoning Black women – but they recognize that since Black women have been given the best in the industry via Sundial, women of other backgrounds are interested in that same access as well.
Sundial Brands is a pioneer in the beauty industry, having brought excellence on a broad scale to the Black beauty space, out of their belief that Black Women deserve access to everything great in personal care and beauty. Bain Capital investing in Sundial will allow them as a Black, family (majority) owned business to grow, scale and provide greater and more innovative products and resources to Black women.
Dennis says, “We did this for you”, driving home the idea that Sundial did not sell out, but is rather showing that there is a different way for brands to grow, scale their efforts, and remain relevant. He highlighted brands like Karl Kinai that were innovators in urban fashion, but could not retain the capital to stay at the forefront of their industry. Sundial wants to be the innovator that continues to own the space in which they created.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s deal with the real-real. You guys should know by now that I like to fact-check ev-ery-thang. The first question Dennis addressed was related to Mitt Romney’s involvement in Bain, and therefore Sundial. Dennis explained that Romney is not at Bain Capital in any active fashion, and has not been in 16 plus years. My immediate thought was, Richielou, would you found Sundial, stay 15 years to run it, and then leave empty-handed when all is said and done? Absolutely not, right? Why would you or anyone else expect Romney to do so? In fact, according to this article from Forbes, Romney left Bain with a retirement package that gave him a share of profits from all Bain funds through 2009, and the right to invest Bain funds. Currently, he holds stakes in dozens of Bain funds worth over $52 million.
Concerning, but not overwhelmingly so. As much as I would love to avoid purchasing or supporting anything tied to companies or individuals I ethically oppose, it’s virtually impossible to do so due to fragmentation in manufacturing. I’m sure there are at least a dozen problems with the keyboard I’m using to type this article. The real issue for me is the ethics of Bain Capital, and what happens to companies after they’ve invested.
The water gets a little murky. From my limited (very limited to be honest, because I’m neither an economist, financial analyst, or even remotely considering an MBA) understanding, Bain Capital is a private equity firm that seeks to maximize profits in new, developing and struggling companies. Private equity firms typically target slow-growth market leaders and focus aggressively on leveraged buyouts that result in extreme cost-cutting measures for the business to be able to repay the debt laid on it by the firm. The end result is that the companies find it difficult to remain competitive, because the capital that would have gone toward innovation, development, and expansion is used to pay off the company’s debt.
To put a lid on that brief lesson, let’s consider this: from 1988 to 1997, Bain Capital invested millions in Sage Stores, American Pad & Paper, GS Industries, Dade Behring, and Details. All of them filed for bankruptcy by 2003. This information may seem a bit dated, but it is telling.
Sundial has made it clear that they have not been bought out by Bain, but rather that Bain has invested in them at an undisclosed, non-controlling minority percentage. Perhaps that will be the difference, and perhaps Sundial will truly show us a new way for Black business to grow and expand without selling out and selling themselves short. I hope to be able to take Richielou Dennis and Sundial at their word and see the brand blossom in the years to come.
I just wish it could have been accomplished with Black dollars.
What are your thoughts on the Sundial and Bain Capital partnership?