New Delhi: Rajat Gupta’s life could so easily have been a modern day fairy tale.
A topper at school, at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT Delhi) and then at Harvard Business School, Gupta joined McKinsey and Co. and went to become its first-ever non-American-born managing director.
As a board member of companies such as Goldman Sachs SA and The Procter & Gamble Co., an adviser to the United Nations, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the World Economic Forum, chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation advisory board as well as the founding chairman of the Indian School of Business and the Public Health Foundation of India, his phone number was on the speed dials of presidents and tycoons alike.
Despite the early loss of his parents, this was a man to the manor born. Yet, the two books dealing with his life and now his own just-released memoir, Mind Without Fear, deal largely with his ignominious conviction on 15 February 2012 on charges of conspiracy and securities fraud.
While Gupta firmly denies all charges, he also tells Mint in an interview that he “has served his time". In his mind that brings some closure to the case but to the world at large, several questions remain unanswered. Here are some of those.
Why this book, and why now?
It was to tell my story in my words. And what I was feeling when I was going through all this. The trial and the prison part is about 30% of the book. It is not a book to defend myself or redeem myself. That is not the purpose. Everybody will form their own opinion. I have stayed silent for seven years, even when the trial was going on. Now, I think, I needed to tell my side of the story.
Were you wrongly convicted?
Clearly, I was wrongly convicted. I have maintained that and I believe that. They (the prosecution) wove a wonderful and a masterful story. They plotted the whole thing. They created an atmosphere. To say that I was driven by greed is ridiculous. Nobody who knows me would believe that. The problem with the prosecution, in this case, was that they were after a win and not after the truth.
In the book, you have suggested that you were a political prisoner.
By political prisoner, I mean that I was there (in prison) because the circumstances then were such. The world had gone through a financial crisis. People on the streets were angry. They had lost their homes, their jobs, their savings and pensions funds. During that time under Barack Obama, the headlines were that he was going after Wall Street. But the fact is that he did not get a single CEO or CXO from any of these banks which were responsible for the financial crisis. And he became a hero because he got someone like Raj Rajaratnam who was the head of some hedge fund. It’s a waste of government resources. That is not to suggest that I condone insider trading. But then go after something meaningful. I was a big fish. I was a much easier target.
How do you feel now?
I always believe it is your destiny sometimes to go through something like this. My father always used to say you cannot control what happens to you but you can control how you react. And that’s really the test of the character. So I’ve been at peace with this. Unfortunately, my family suffered more than I did. Probably had this not happened to me, I would have gone on with my life, doing board meetings. In the end, board meetings are not all that interesting. (But) they took me away from philanthropic work for seven years. And I miss that. There are clearly many regrets. Loss of reputation is another.
Your book mentions how you reconciled with Rajaratnam in prison despite the fact that the charge against you was of passing on inside information to him and he let you down in many ways.
I used to see him quite often. I told him three things. One, I told him is that it is really bad you took out your equity and did not inform me. He said he had every right to take out his equity. I said, yes, you do but you had the obligation to tell me for I could have also taken out my equity. He is not a guy who will say sorry. Then I told him that he did not do anything intentionally. He is just a bombastic guy. You didn’t knowingly do this but I’m here because of you. He didn’t have anything to say to that. The last one is that I thanked him. I told him you stood your ground. That shows your character. When you have been sentenced for 11 years, you cannot imagine what a reduction of five years means. And the government was bribing him to testify against me. Rightly or falsely, he could have said anything. And he did not testify.
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Did you ever share any information with him and was it driven by some greed?
It was not driven by greed. Did I share any information? Absolutely not. Zero. Never. If you read all the court proceedings, it was more circumstantial.
In your book, you have said how you were disappointed with the way McKinsey treated you?
Disappointment is a light word, deep hurt. I think McKinsey did not live up to its values. I won’t go into what all they did to me because that is petty. They behaved extremely poorly on many different dimensions. One of the principles which they should have followed is that you are innocent until you are proven guilty. They didn’t behave like that. It has strong values of partnerships.
The sense of partnership means that you help each other. I was having the crisis of my life, I was on the floor, and what did they do? They kicked me. They took my email away. That was the only email I had. They took me off from the alumni directory. Just because they take me off the alumni directory does not mean I am not an alumni. They didn’t take Anil Kumar out. So many partners get into trouble, they don’t do that. Yes, I have moved on. It is more a reflection on them than me.
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Do you still regret not making the defence statement when you had the opportunity to do so?
Yes, yes, I do. I was tired of the whole thing. Sometimes, it was a kind of Chinese water torture. I’m pretty resilient and a tough guy but I got exhausted. My wife still thinks that it would have made no difference. They (the prosecutors) had spun such a story that my lawyers could not effectively counter that.
You know, when the judge ruled against us, nearly half the jury was crying. There were literally tears in their eyes. They didn’t want to convict me.
Your wife thinks that you are a poor judge of a person. Has that changed?
I don’t think so. I have a life philosophy of trusting others. Sometimes it will be disappointing and I say that’s the cost of it. But when you trust people, the upside is much more. If you get betrayed, that’s okay.