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Book Explores Downfall Of An Indian-American Business Icon

Filed by KOSU News in Business.
June 4, 2013

Rajat Gupta was one of the wealthiest and most successful men in America and an icon of the Indian-American community. Today, he faces two years in prison for insider trading, convicted of passing corporate secrets to his billionaire friend and Galleon Group founder Raj Rajaratnam.

Gupta was already a wealthy man; what was the motive for his crime? In The Billionaire’s Apprentice:The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund, journalist Anita Raghavan tries to answer that question.

As Raghavan recounts in her book, in the fall of 2008, in the middle of the global financial crisis, Gupta took part in a conference call among Goldman Sachs board members. During that call, he learned that Warren Buffett was going to put a huge amount of money into Goldman Sachs — the kind of good news that would drive Goldman’s stock price up.

A minute after hanging up from the Goldman board conference call, Raghavan writes, Gupta’s secretary called Rajaratnam, a friend of Gupta’s at a Wall Street hedge fund. And shortly after that brief call, Rajaratnam started shouting at his traders: “Buy Goldman Sachs! Buy Goldman Sachs!”

Raghavan’s exploration of Gupta’s motivations took her back to India and to previous generations of the Gupta family. Raghavan joins NPR’s Linda Wertheimer to talk about why she finds Gupta so interesting, how profound his betrayal was, and how the Indian-American community has responded to the scandal.

Interview Highlights

On why her book focuses on Rajat Gupta, a secondary figure in the Galleon Group scandal

“I just thought that Gupta was far more fascinating, because I wanted to know why someone like Rajat Gupta, who had been elected three times to lead McKinsey by his partners, who was friends with Bill Clinton and Bill Gates and Kofi Annan — why someone like him would end up with a brash, street-fighting, short-term trader like Raj Rajaratnam.”

On her dramatic portrayal of the moments after Gupta’s call to Rajaratnam

“The circumstantial evidence was just so powerful at the trial, and even though Gupta had always maintained that he had had a dispute with Rajaratnam during this period — why would he tip off someone he was in a fight with? — it was just hard to ignore the timing of the phone calls and the powerful witness testimony.”

On how Gupta’s insider trading was a total betrayal of trust

“Judge [Jed] Rakoff, when it came time to sentence Gupta, described it as the functional equivalent of stabbing Goldman Sachs in the back. Here was a board member whose sole job was to protect the secrets of the boardroom, and by tipping off Rajaratnam, of course, he fell down in his job.”

On how the Indian-American community responded to Gupta’s downfall

“Rajat Gupta was an icon to the Indian community. He was different from many of the Indians in the community in that he was assimilated — he waltzed out effortlessly between India and America, business and philanthropy. And I think it was a great disappointment to many that someone of his stature fell so low. When I was starting on the book project, I was at a gala and a very prominent Indian-American came up to me, and he said, ‘Why, Anita? Why this book? If you’re going to write a book about the Indian-American community, why do you want to write a book that paints such a sobering picture of one of its greatest heroes?’ “

On her answer to that question

“I wrote about [Gupta] because in a way, as I learned more about Rajat Gupta and his journey in the United States, it so reminded me of my father’s own journey. And I wanted to understand how someone like Rajat Gupta, who came with the same high hopes and great dreams like my father, how that story went awry.” [Copyright 2013 NPR]

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