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Rajat Gupta: Man who had everything but blew it away

Last updated on: December 30, 2011 13:11 IST

Rajat Gupta: Man who had everything but blew it away

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Rajiv Rao in New Delhi

What do you say about a man who achieved stratospheric heights of corporate achievement over decades of toil and ingenuity and then purportedly threw it all away for a few more bucks?

Stupid? Perhaps greedy? These are still difficult words to use to describe Rajat Gupta, the former head of bluechip consulting firm McKinsey and member of possibly the most powerful corporate boards in the world, including Goldman Sachs and Proctor and Gamble.

Here's a man, born and raised in India, who spent his entire life as a consultant - someone whose advice and discretion were benchmarks for integrity.

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Image: Rajat Gupta.
Photographs: Reuters

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Rajat Gupta: Man who had everything but blew it away

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While advising some of the biggest and most respected firms in the world on corporate strategy, amongst other things, and propelling McKinsey to greater heights, what Gupta built was a bank of credibility for himself.

He destroyed all that in just a few phone calls.

That's what the New York District Attorney's office - or rather its deputy DA Preet Bharara, also of Indian origin - is saying.

Bharara says that Gupta made several calls to his friend, billionaire investor Raj Rajaratnam, a Tamil originally from Sri Lanka, and offered him confidential information gleaned from board meetings he sat in on at Goldman and P&G.

Bharara says that Rajaratnam, then, went on to execute several trades netting him millions of dollars in illegal profits thanks to these tips.

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Image: Raj Rajaratnam.
Photographs: Reuters

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Rajat Gupta: Man who had everything but blew it away

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Rajaratnam has since been incarcerated for eleven years while Rajat Gupta has been arrested on insider trading charges and released after he put up his $10 million dollar Connecticut house as bail.

Is Gupta clearly guilty? Hard to say, especially since the DA's office doesn't appear to have the 'smoking gun' - a tape that reveals Gupta tipping Rajaratnam - although it could be saving it for use at a more strategic moment as the case proceeds.

Still, even if the prosecution is unable to prove Gupta guilty, the damage is more than done.

What has shredded Gupta's professional standing is one phone call, released on the Internet, where Gupta reveals to Rajaratnam on tape that both Wachovia and AIG were discussed as possible targets by the Goldman board during its last meeting.

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Image: Preet Bharara.
Photographs: Reuters

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Rajat Gupta: Man who had everything but blew it away

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This, as anyone of Gupta's stature should know, was strictly no-no.

Then comes a more damning bit. Rajaratnam mentions payments to Anil Kumar, another McKinsey partner who apparently has also been tipping off Rajaratnam.

Rajat Gupta first says: "I think you're being very generous ," to which Rajaratnam says, "I've given him a million bucks, after tax, off shore, cash..." Gupta agrees, saying "Yeah, yeah."

Here Gupta's knowledge of 'off-shore' payments made to a McKinsey partner who is still employed by the firm is very hard to justify.

Whichever way the case goes, Rajat Gupta's story is an unfortunate one where a man risked so much for arguably so little, a case that is ultimately as much about the fragility of human judgment as it is about money.


Image: Anil Kumar.
Photographs: Reuters

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