“Tell me with whom you associate, and I will tell you who you are.” – Johann Wolfgang Goethe
Apparently it’s not that simple when personal values and economic realities collide — as they appear to be for some business executives attending this week’s Saudi Arabia Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh.
As noted in the New York Times, “for Washington and Wall Street, It’s Back to Business With the Saudis a year after Slaying of Jamal Khashoggi “Wall Street and Washington to Return to Saudi Investment Meeting” . The slaying, of course, is the brutal murder allegedly conducted by Saudi agents controlled by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Some of the business leaders attending decided not to attend last year. Other invitees have demurred twice. Of course, U.S. government officials such as Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin, are attending., consistent with the Trump Administration’s fine-line responses to Saudi human rights issues.
The Times may have captured a prevailing business attitude with this quote from Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations: “People in the business community want to do business with Saudi Arabia. They never stopped; they just kept a low profile. The crown prince clearly remains toxic for some people, but my sense is that business leaders want to move on.”
Not all leaders “want to move on.” For example, earlier this year,
“Endeavor Returns Money to Saudi Arabia, Protesting Khashoggi Murder” .The powerful California talent agency Endeavor, having received a $400 million investment from the Saudi government, returned it in March, according to The Times, “in a messy breakup, set in motion by the murder last October of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi … It is one of the few instances of a major company halting business with the wealthy kingdom to protest its agents’ assassination of a journalist.”
Interestingly, this may not be the ideal time — at least as compared with earlier times — to be initiating financial ties with the kingdom. Reuters: “Saudi Arabia faces reality check as Wall Street heads to Riyadh”
For context on the business ethics aspect, this from a year ago: The Business Times “Saudi crisis: Wall Street struggle between ethics and cash”
All in, this nuanced examination (“no permanent friends, no permanent enemies”) for business, from a CNBC roundtable, “Squawk Box Saudi Investment Initiative Who Will Be Attending?”
(Five minute video but well worth it):
Is that the bottom line?