I finished reading Rajat Gupta’s 342-page memoir, Mind Without Fear, a couple of weeks ago. The best review of the book by far is by D N Mukerjea in Fortune India who echoes exactly what I too gleaned from the book, “Gupta’s book, written over two years, tackles multiple themes. There is betrayal and hurt by close friends and institutions, particularly one, McKinsey & Co., the global consulting giant that he once headed and helped grow. He calls out colleagues who twisted the knife where it hurt the most, and questions McKinsey, which dumped him with no remorse.
“There is disillusionment with the idea of America. The nation that once took in a near penniless orphan, and bestowed upon him fame, honour and riches, mocked him and threw him into jail. There is also a parallel narrative of Gupta’s disenchantment with America’s courts: in his telling, can the courts of the world’s greatest democracy really be so biased? And of course, there is hubris—of associating with a dodgy Wall Street operative with seemingly impeccable credentials who manipulates him and is ultimately the cause of his downfall.”
From my own reading of the book, Gupta’s writing—irrespective of which theme he describes—reeks of conceit, self-importance and lack of repentance. In fact it is a book full of self-righteousness, self-virtue and yes, self-defence. And in that self-defence, the main argument that he forcefully puts forward is that he didn’t testify, and hence the jury and the judge (and therefore the entire world) didn’t ever get to know the full picture. My simple question is that if the testimony was so important to clearing his name, why didn’t he stand up and say his piece?
Gupta was in India for his book promotion tour last month. Somehow, all the attention he was receiving seemed somewhat inappropriate and undeserving to me. For a man who was perhaps one of the most admired Indians in the world at one time as the global head of McKinsey, by his insidious and dubious acts he besmirched us Indians to the Western world: tainted us, tarnished us, stigmatised us all. Why would we all queue up to listen to his tirade against his adopted country, his ex-employer, his former colleagues, his conviction … all because he believes that he was a big fish, and an easy target as a non-White? Why suddenly seek to invoke the colour of your skin when you did not give it, or your origins in India, any credit for your spectacular rise and success when you were on your way up, up and up? It was in fact said about him that his phone number was on the speed dials of heads of states and business tycoons alike.
Way back in 2012, the website www.friendsofrajat.com was set up by Gupta’s friend, Atul Kanagat, who had gone on record to say that Gupta is “like a dolphin caught up in a tuna net”. Reliance Industries Ltd. chairman Mukesh Ambani and some other well-known Indians had then signed up at the website in defence of “Gupta’s character and integrity”. The site no longer exists. If Gupta really has a story some still believe in, now is the time to get the website up and active again and get Gupta’s (once) charmed circle of friends to again give him a character certificate. I bet few would dare. One should not forget what US District Judge Jed Raskoff, who presided over Gupta’s case, had to say, “If Mother Teresa were here charged with bank robbery, what the jury would still have to determine is whether the evidence showed that she had committed bank robbery”. And the evidence pointed to wrongdoing by Gupta, no matter how much he may now dispute it.
If you were to revisit the ‘fatal’ 18-minute recording by the SEC of the conversation between Gupta and hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam that nailed him for insider trading, Rajaratnam advises him to go sign up with the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), saying he would personally do so “in a heartbeat”. In a separate conversation when ex-McKinsey colleague Anil Kumar and Rajaratnam are discussing the same topic, Rajaratnam speculates on Gupta’s motive in joining KKR: “My analysis of the situation is he’s enamoured with Kravis, and I think he wants to be in that circle. That’s a billionaire circle, right? Goldman is like the hundreds of millions circle, right? And I think here he sees the opportunity to make $100 million over the next five years or 10 years without doing a lot of work.”
The crux of Gupta’s problem always was that he suffered from ‘billionaire envy’. In the conversation above Rajaratnam very astutely narrows in on that Achilles’ heel of Gupta … he was supping, dining and hugging billionaires every day in the course of his work and social routine. But somehow in his heart-of-hearts he never felt he belonged. Despite his professional eminence and his global stature he was still in envy of those who were in the billionaire bracket.
Despite his years in prison, Gupta, I think, has not gotten over the billionaire envy. He still desperately wants to belong. And be seen to belong. Let us see how many billionaires, his erstwhile friends, will oblige him this time around. And whether Rajat Gupta will eventually be forgiven, or forgotten.
The author is an advertising and media veteran