Saturday 16 June 2012

The Verdict for Rajat Gupta

Rajat Gupta 
When I read that Rajat Gupta was convicted for 25 years in prison, I had mixed emotions – sad, upset, frustrated. When I was at American India Foundation (AIF), Rajat was the co-chair. , and he was always generous, elegant and affectionate. He was the first Indian to break the professional barriers to make it to being the head of McKinsey. He was a great connector of ideas and people. He came up with the ideas, brought together people who had the resources and time to support the ideas, and let them take the center stage to turn the ideas into action. He was the driving force in making both AIF and ISB world class organizations. I am not his family nor would I be listed as one of his close friends but at work, I felt that he was always fair and made sure that we each got our time in the spotlight. He never imposed his ideas but discussed them until everyone was on board.

I still remember attending a dinner party at ISB in Hyderabad while it was under construction. The open quad area with the strong breeze was almost magical. He was like a proud father that night, as he walked us around the campus and showed us where the faculty quarters would be, where the student housing was coming up. He knew every inch of the project in the utmost detail. In fact, one of my friends commented that Rajat could have bought a lot of land around ISB area knowing that the prices would go up when ISB is completed, but he did not do it because she surmised that he was very ethical.

It was not just me but if we go back in time, everyone who met Rajat was impressed with his commitment to everything he took on. They say that some people can fool some people some times, but no one can fool all the people all the time. So, Rajat could not have fooled all of us with his genuineness. He was and I am sure continues to be a very affectionate person.

What made someone like Rajat then participate in insider trading, which is a serious offense? Whether we leak information to a friend or family, it is a serious crime. Was it because he was constantly surrounded by financial hotshots ,who showed off their private planes and multiple mansions so he felt that he needed one too? Did he feel really bad to say “No” to the trading requests of a friend? No one knows the precise reason but there was some external pressure or an extra desire that caused this slip in his judgment. 

Here is what I learned from this episode. If someone as brilliant as Rajat, as nice as him could have this slip, any of us could have it as well. And if the root cause of this slip was perhaps money - then we all need to remember that no matter how rich we are, there is someone richer. If I have a small home, someone could have a mansion and when I have a mansion, someone could have a private plane, and when I have that as well, someone could have a private island. There is no end to what one can materially possess. Pretty soon our definition of what is a “basic” need could change, and having a private jet, not just flying first class, becomes essential to our existence. That is when we tread the slippery slope of error in our judgment.

I realize that it is important to surround myself with friends who live like I do and are happy with their lives while I also celebrate the mansions of my other friends without having a need to own one myself. I also realize the need to surround myself with people who not only support me on the way up but also warn me if I begin to slip. It is important to hang on to those who might not be our most pleasant friends but are the most truthful ones. The more successful we become, the more important it is to hang on to those friendships that started when we were a nobody and friends who have a strong integrity toward what they do almost to a fault. 

I am sad for Rajat because his legacy is seen as that one moment of misjudgment and not his decades of service. I am sad because he did not have that someone who could have warned him of this consequence.

As for Rajat, I feel that the right question is not “How could he?” but it is “How do I not?”

I revel in the praises that I receive, love the little luxuries that life can offer me but I grow because of the ruthless criticism I receive when I make a mistake. And I hang on to those friends and family members who are not afraid to be the bad guys momentarily because they do a world of good to me in the long haul. 

(Picture from Wikimedia Commons)

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