Jim Perry—LCI Board Member and Managing Director of Madison Dearborn Partners—Challenges Future Business Leaders to Apply Principles of Catholic Social Thought to their Decision-Making

Private equity doesn’t have a great reputation.

Business leaders in the private equity world are notorious for being ruthless. After all, they come in and “trim companies down.” They take a fledgling company and go through the books and say, “you need to fire people, cut your expenses.”

It’s hard to imagine private equity investors being compassionate and loving Christians.

However in a luncheon talk given at Gavin House on May 13th, James (“Jim”) N. Perry, Jr. Managing Director of the private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners, challenged over fifty students from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business to see their work through the Christian lens by actually helping take a company from failure to success—and that whatever decisions are made during the process should be done sensitively, ethically, and with utmost respect for the human person.

“As business people, we are often confronted with choices that do implicate our faith tradition,” said Perry. In his industry, for example, investors look at a company to make it more profitable. It’s all about relationship. They have to find the right leaders—people of competence, courage, and compassion. “Our business is about putting the right jockeys on the right horses.”

In whatever decisions are being made, “Catholic Social Thought offers us a framework.”

Perry then went on to present the pillars of Catholic Social Thought that can guide aspiring private equity investors—and any business leader of character and conviction who is not afraid of elevating moral standards in the workplace.

The first pillar is respecting the human person who is created in the image and likeness of God. “What does it mean in how we respect the worker?” he prodded. The individual worker of course comes from a family, which is the next pillar. An ethical business should promote the good of the family, which includes the understanding that livelihood depends on a just wage and that high levels of stress destroy family life.

There is also within Catholic Social Thought a strong emphasis on the right to private property and its connection to human freedom. Perry expressed fascination with this “linkage between human freedom, markets and property.”

The next pillar is subsidiarity, a principle of social organization which promotes political decision-making at a local level rather than from a detached centralized authority.

And finally Catholic Social Thought encourages business leaders to work for the common good—to think about what they can do in their sphere of life to promote peace and to care for the poor. “One main idea Jim imparted is that all individuals need to take responsibility for their actions, and there is always a choice to make a values-based decision,” said Andrea Vandersall who aspires to go into private equity after she graduates from Booth. She was particularly grateful that Perry encouraged students to anchor themselves in the faith, to pay attention to their spiritual life. “Listening to Jim also reminded me that taking the time for some deeper reflection can be tremendously worthwhile. When people get busy or stressed this type of thing is pushed to the side too often, when some form of spiritual thoughtfulness, regardless of religious beliefs, could be one of the best ways to keep people grounded.”

Indeed, a deep spiritual life is essential for making a difference and being a beacon of light in the business world.

Perry concluded in quoting from Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 social encyclical Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labour):

“Whoever has received from the divine bounty a large share of temporal blessings has received them for the purpose of using them for the perfecting of his own nature, and, at the same time, that he may employ them, as the steward of God’s providence, for the benefit of others.”