Staples is now the world’s largest office-supply company, employing 90,000 workers worldwide, but in the 1980s it was a startup having trouble attracting investors — until it came to Bain Capital, an investment firm founded and run at the time by Mitt Romney.

Bain was considered the gold standard in venture capital circles, and when Mr. Romney put the firm’s stamp on Staples, money began to flow, said Tom Stemberg, who co-founded the company in 1986.

“When we started raising money, it was a little bit hard,” Mr. Stemberg told The Washington Times. “Once Bain and one or two other guys signed up to do it, there were at least 20 firms that wanted to make an investment. The reason we chose Bain is because money is fungible. What’s not [fungible] is the amount of value an investor can add and Bain, in the case of Staples and I’m assuming in other situations, was as high a value-added investor as I have ever worked with.”

The story of Staples — and a string of other companies the former Massachusetts governor once backed — is likely to be at the center of the U.S. political narrative for the next week, as Mr. Romney’s presidential rivals try to use his business resume against him ahead of the possible make-or-break South Carolina Republican primary vote Jan. 21.

Staples‘ success has become a part of Mr. Romney’s chief pitch to voters — as head of Bain Capital from 1984 to 1999, he led an economic investment engine he says spawned 100,000 jobs. As president, he says, he could do it again on a broader scale — for the whole country.

But Bain began to shift over the years, doing less on the venture capital side to create companies and more on the private equity side to buy, break down, repackage and sell off struggling companies. It is that side of his business background that has taken center stage in recent days as Democrats and some of his fellow Republican presidential hopefuls accuse him of being part of a “destruction” side of capitalism’s “creative destruction.”

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