Fireside Chat with Rajat Gupta

By Pratish Kanani, IIT Roorkee Alumni

“You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it.”
The IIT Alumni of Greater Houston (IITAGH) and the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston (IACCGH) hosted a Fireside Chat with Rajat Gupta at the Hess Club on December 11, 2019.
The sold-out event provided glimpses of Rajat’s life from his early days to his time at IIT Delhi and then at Harvard Business School, followed by his 37 years at McKinsey & Company. But more importantly, Rajat shared his side of the story about the SEC charges, his conviction and time in prison, and the toll on his family. All of this is covered in detail in his new book, “Mind without Fear.”
The event was kicked off by Jagdip Ahluwalia, the Executive Director of the IACCGH, followed by a few words from Swapan Dhairyawan, the current president of IACCGH. Witty Bindra, President Emeritus of Pan IIT USA, and who was instrumental in organizing the event, talked about Rajat’s background and introduced him to the audience. The talk was moderated by Suresh Shenoy, the president of the WHEELS global foundation.
The title of Rajat’s book came from a collection of Tagore’s poems, “Where the Mind is Without Fear.” Rajat had been a fan of Tagore from his early days of growing up in Calcutta. He talked about losing his mother and father at an early age but working to keep the family together by staying with an aunt. He studied at IIT Delhi and along the way he realized that he did not have a passion for engineering and instead really wanted to pursue management. Of the 10 universities in the U.S. that he applied to, he was rejected by nine of them, with the only acceptance, along with financial aid, coming from Harvard Business School (HBS).

He shared the story of how upon graduation, the only firms sponsoring students were consulting firms. At first he was rejected by McKinsey but his professor at HBS called his colleague the head of the New York McKinsey branch to reconsider. Rajat applied once again and did receive a coveted job at McKinsey & Company. His 37 years with he firm, including the last 9 leading up the firm, included several years in Scandinavia where he was the youngest partner to lead up an office.
He spoke candidly about his relationship with Raj Rajaratnam, the hedge fund manager who was a donor to the very prestigious Indian School of Business that Rajat help set up. When Rajat retired from McKinsey, he created a plan to focus on philanthropic activities and spend a bit of time in the private equity and hedge fund space, including an investment with Raj Rajaratnam. Rajat discussed this investment where Raj Rajaratnam fraudulently pulled out his investment causing Rajat to lose his entire investment during the financial meltdown in 2008.

The discussion then focused on Rajat’s now infamous call right after a Goldman Sachs board meeting. Rajat said he was following up Raj Rajaratnam to resolve the investment issue and did not share any confidential information from the Goldman Sachs board meeting. It turns out that Rajatanam was in the cross hairs of the SEC for financial irregularities. From Rajat’s perspective, he was an easy scapegoat for prosecutors who weaved a false narrative that ended up with him being convicted of three counts of securities fraud that cost him $60M in legal fees and $26M in fines. Rajat shared how he resolved to become stronger physically, mentally, and emotionally and how in jail he helped other prisoners.
A particularly emotional story was when he talked about the guards throwing him into solitary confinement for seven weeks. The guards were angry that Rajat was making other less fortunate inmates happy through little things like medicines that he bought. He convinced them to allow him to have two books including the Bhagavad Gita, which he read multiple times during those seven weeks. Rajat’s recollection of the guards looking to break the human spirit was raw and moving. During his time in jail, Rajat came face-to-face with Raj Rajaratnam. After serving his time, Rajat was released from jail and wrote his side of the story in “Mind without Fear.” After that talk, he signed copies of the book for the audience.
As Abhijit Gadgil, the president of IITAGH closed out the evening, he along with Witty Bindra thanked Rajat for coming to Houston to share his extraordinary story. Rajat graciously signed copies of his book with all proceeds going to the WHEELS charity. The book is available on Amazon and at other leading booksellers.