Labor costs spiked as managers revamped work schedules with little understanding of how the plant actually operated. Linson says he picked up an entire shift of overtime each week because his managers didn’t realize that a furnace needed a full eight hours to heat up to operating temperature.

The steel mill went bankrupt in 2001 amid a flurry of other steel-company bankruptcies. But it’s clear that the hundreds of millions of dollars of leverage Bain placed on the company played a big role in its failure. Debt constrains a company’s ability to survive a downturn—period. And the more you have, the less likely it is that you’ll survive.

The story ends, appropriately, with the human wreckage of the buyout, with new jobs hard to find, health care lost, and meager pensions slashed. Romney’s company, which pushed the steel mill into massive debt, made a 150 percent profit.

Excellent work by Reuters.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at