The curious case of Rajat Gupta


He was well-known. Now, I don’t know. Maybe, like Subhas Chandra Bose, aka Netaji. I don’t like to cover him. His life is almost over, but he has his millions still with him. Means he can still come back. As the Industry Minister in Bengal. Hope that they have some sort of industry in Bengal left.

I was reading his interview on Busineeweek on success of IIT geniuses. Rajat Gupta was an obvious choice. He was a graduate of IIT Kharagpur. He went on to become the Managing Partner, the term I remember, of McKinsey. consultants. Mostly whiles, rich, in those days rich meant had a few hundred million dollars in bank, MBA from Harvard. Harvard Business School graduating class chose McKinsey Consulting consistently as their favorite place to work.

Later when happened to hear middle-aged white men complaining about off ridiculous salaries demanded by baseball and football (mostly black) players, and I guess that still do, I happened to read a business article where salaries for partners in that firm was mentioned. Seemed like most were making comparable salaries year after year to the black payers’, who could demand such salaries for 4-5 years of their prime years if they were among the best 2-3 on their professions. Once I met a black guys working out in the same guy as mine in Irvine Spectrum, who claimed he was a top player at LA Falcon but lost the job because of a sudden injury, there were no reason to disbelieve him, he was fit for a top football player – American football I mean.

So Rajat Gupta was the head of McKinsey, a very prestigious consulting firm.

In the interview he talked about IIT Kharagpur, his wife whom he met there, how she was good in studies while he was not, he was poor, Harvard gave him admission to their MBA program, gave his a full scholarship etc. Sounded tempting to me. Seemed like I could be a success in life. America – true meritocracy.

A small thing bothered me. In IIT Bombay Electrical Engineering department, 2 years senior to me was Amar Bhide. He got into HBS. A friend told me that HBS has accepted him. They had nearly admitted him. All they needed was a reference letter from a person at the senator level. He got a reference letter from defense minister of India that Harvard considered to be on par.

He got in, became a Baker Scholar meaning scored in the top 10%, and later became a faculty there. Amar was from a rich family, and didn’t need any scholarship

But Rajat Gupta was poor and so was it. Thanks to me corporate work I had saved money – just enough for one way economy class flight to New York from Kolkata – Rs 7500 + barely enough for one month on frugal living in America.

I applied to HBS. $50 was the application fee. For that I had to get some sort of permit. When I was at the bank, a foreign exchange agent approached me I remember now, and told me “Admission to US is easy. Getting US $ is the main deal.”

In Application form getting top academic scores was emphasized. Very rare scholarships. Just a few, mostly a few thousands each, with severe conditions – such as your name should start with Q followed by p, father was a POW in world bank. At the end of the application I had to declare whether I would be able to HBS if not offered financial aid. I think that sealed the fate of my application.

I was wondering how did Rajat Gupta manage all these of application process.

Another hint came from a small incident he had mentioned in the same interview. When he was preparing to go to the USA, head of ITC (Kolkata) called him and sent him plane tickets to come to Kalkota for having a talk with him. When I was looking for job, one company told me to book and I did, Rajdhani AC 2 tier to Delhi, ate at Nirula’s – a Dosa from daily expenses granted, one told me to get 1st class ticket to Badodara, a fellow IITian came along for the interview, and L and T where I got my job, I don’t remember, perhaps Rs. 20, price of train ticket to Bombay VT and back to Vikroli.

No plane ticket, no MD calling. Either I was special or he was. Looks like he was special. I have guessed. Am probably correct. Had not heard of plane tickets offered to fresh graduates.

Harvard Admission

At this moment no money, no chief minister to give him reference letter, and even brilliant academic background, what will happen. Durga mata appeared in Harvard’s governing minds ordering them to admit Rajat Gupta. No. Rajat Gupta went to his dad, who was well known among political elites, and promised to whatever he wanted if he asked the Prime Minister to write a reference letter for him. Harvard immediately accepted him. Before Stanford, MIT,… got hold of him. A victory day for Rajat and even one bigger for Harvard.

Harvard is not a charity institution. Every year it received thousands of letters, mostly from Indian students who want a MBA degree and full financial support. Because they are Brahmins, or Dalits, or Women, or Handicapped men, or Muslims….Infinite possibilities. It has to figure out how much they are worth and how much they will give back,. For person like Narayana Murthy it is easy. Full tuition and some bonus like expenses $5M for the library, secrecy is their preferred mode when dealing with Indians. It calculates expected future wealth. The college that rejected Jeff Bezos , I don’t want to think of its admission office, oh my. In case of Rajat Gupta, their gamble paid off handsomely. Harvardization of Indian policy makers. Won.

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