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Values at Work in a Developing World

Everywhere he goes, ethics prove crucial

When Gordon McLaughlin looks back, he remembers being a young Columbia University MBA student, answering questions about ethics in an effort to win a McGowan Fellowship, and feeling a natural alignment with the things he’d read about Bill McGowan. The year was 2011, and he was among the first students in McGowan’s Fellows Program, which is aimed at supporting new leaders dedicated to values-based decision-making in business and in the community. “I would say, it being the first year, I was fortunate that it was a lot less competitive,” Gordon says modestly.

But the modesty is misplaced. He’d worked at JPMorgan Asset Management, McKinsey & Company, and other top-notch firms, and he graduated first in his class at Columbia. Now a cofounder of Development Capital Partners, he focuses on developing markets in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, and he counts ethics as crucial to the firm’s investing success and impact. “Ethical leadership and decision-making are a nonnegotiable part of my career,” he says.

In practice, this means he brings his values with him as he builds relationships in South Africa, Kenya, India, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Morocco, and elsewhere, and makes investments. “Good ethics and governance mean better returns for investors,” he says. One measure of this strategy: his actively managed Africa funds outperformed benchmarks by 45 percent between April 2012 and December 2016.

Although he doesn’t see his practice as belonging under the umbrella of “impact investing,” he nonetheless sees positive change through his work. According to Gordon, “All of us here are of the strong belief that we’re investing in overlooked markets. Even if all we do is attract more interest in Africa, that’s a part of economic development.”

As for fears that emerging markets have the corner on shaky business practices, be assured that’s not the case. “I think there are still ethical issues in the U.S.,” he says. “I worked in real estate and still saw people doing things they shouldn’t have. Maybe I’m a pessimist, but I think it’s an element in human nature.” Fortunately, there are young leaders, like Gordon, who know that strong values are verifiable and transportable—and very good business.