(WALL STREET JOURNAL) — Just after Philippe Wells took a job in 1998 at Bain Capital, then run by Mitt Romney, he recalls hearing an unusual boast from a partner. The man’s individual retirement account had jumped tenfold in five years.

Mr. Wells soon learned how this was possible. Bain, like many other private-equity firms, allowed employees to co-invest in its takeover deals. This posed a risk they could lose their whole investment, as they sometimes did. But because of the firm’s success during the Romney era, employees ended up able to share in returns for Bain investors that averaged 50% to 80% annually.

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