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Macaskill on markets: Saudi Arabia – The tricky business of ethics

Saudi Arabia’s central bank governor recently gave international banks a clear signal that they will not be punished by a loss of fees for avoiding an investment conference in Riyadh due to public outrage over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.


This must have been galling for Ken Moelis, who was the only high-profile leader of a Wall Street firm to attend the Saudi Future Investment Initiative conference in October.

JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon, BlackRock head Larry Fink and Blackstone chairman Stephen Schwarzman all cancelled, in an apparent attempt to signal disapproval to the Saudis, without actually cutting off their own future earnings from the kingdom.

Moelis, by contrast, showed up and engaged in awkward evasion of media questions.

It is all too easy to condemn Moelis as a hypocrite who publicly espouses vaguely defined “values” while remaining focused entirely on his own bottom line.

So here goes. Moelis runs the investment bank he founded – Moelis & Co – by fostering a cult of his own personality, complete with a website that highlights the ‘Moelis Standard’, a list of seven principles.

Number four is the principle that: “We stay ahead of the changing environment to provide the most relevant advice and innovative solutions.”

Number six is: “We will not compromise our vision and values.”

Hollow nature

A casual observer of the Moelis Standard might wonder how the chief executive is staying ahead of the changing environment by endorsing the Saudis in a period of widespread condemnation of their actions, or what exactly it would take to compromise his vision and values.

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