Wednesday, February 20, 2013

'Fallen Angel: The making & unmaking of Rajat Gupta' by Sandipan Deb- A book review

If you are an IIT/IIM student or aspiring to be one, then you must be aware of the adage that "success is due to only 2% talent but  98% hard work." Rajat Gupta , an IIT-Harvard alumni, ex-chief of Mckinsey worldwide & a global philanthropist, probably lived up to the adage, literally till his 62nd year, till he was sent to prison on 8th January ,2013 convicted ;as he was, on charges of insider trading in USA. Rajat's remarkable rise and equally remarkable fall have attracted worldwide attention from people who not only consider themselves talented but also from scores of corporate executives who saw him as a role model par excellence. Rajat was convicted barely few months ago on 24th October'12 by Judge Rekoff and it's probably futile to expect a detailed book on this saga so soon  but Sandipan Deb , himself an IIT-IIM alumni and the author of the book "IITians," was on the job the moment his trial started in June'2012 and has now come out with the first book called , "Fallen Angel:The making and unmaking of Rajat Gupta."

Fallen Angel is a book that is heavily researched (although of the secondary kind ) from newspaper articles, news items and court papers. One is not sure whether Sandipan  tried to do some primary research by talking to Rajat's family of his wife and four daughters or his professional contacts  but he surely has contacted good number of Rajat's personal friends from his IIT days trying to unravel the mystique behind Rajat's saga which Sandipan calls rightfully "a tragedy of the Greek proportions."

The book has been divided into 15 chapters with emphasis on the struggle in the life of Rajat as he was orphaned at a very little age but used his remarkable talent, hard work & unique leadership style to climb on to the very top of his profession or to the very top of everything that he did;  on the genesis of his liaison with a crooked hedge fund manager, Raj Rajaratnam; on the case and the detailed transcript of the wire-trap of his conversation between him and Raj; on the pre-trial &  post-trial proceedings leading to his conviction and surprisingly a bit more emphasis on Rajat's ex-colleague, Anil Kumar, who testified against him and got away scot-free for cooperating with the investigating authorities. I am surprised why Sandipan devoted two chapters (The Protege & The one that got away) on Anil Kumar, the said ex-colleague in Mckinsey and the guy who introduced Rajaratnam to Rajat, Although right in the beginning the publisher has stated that "The author has asserted his moral rights," but I find it pretty warped that Sandipan would devote additional pages on Anil Kumar instead of on the  lifetime crook, Raj, to trace what shades of villainy Rajat conveniently overlooked in order to be  seen in the company of billionaires and top fund managers. The likes of Anil Kumar, who forget the cheques but remember the bills and who succumb easily to pressures, are pretty common among any fraternity but not the likes of Raj who manipulate & control relationships with people more talented than him to further their own gains.

At the trial it was disclosed that Rajat's net worth was somewhere around $110 million. Now everyone who's been reading about young  talented fund managers and venture capitalists whether from the Silicon Valley or elsewhere know that they make such amount of money many times over by investing in and exiting from promising start-ups and entrepreneurship opportunities. But Rajat , in spite of being heralded (at one time) by hundreds of CEOs of global corporations as well as by global  developmental organisations (like the United Nations) and by top-of-the -chart global entrepreneurs (like Bill Gates) as the smartest consultant and strategic thinker in the world, didn't possess the bank balance to match his smartness. Although Rajat had a king size reputation that those fund managers would pay their lifetime earnings  to possess; it is my conjecture that post-retirement this conflict between reputation and extreme-wealth drove Rajat to befriend people like Raj who's been paying fines to SEC almost ever three years to cover his trading  misdeeds.

Sandipan's secondary research threw little light on this conflict except for a mention by Raj that he seems "tormented," and wants to be in the "club of billionaires." Maybe another book later by Rajat himself or his future biographer would shed more light on the reasons of his torment  and the mismatch of expectations with reality while defining his goals of life  in his retirement.

Fallen Angel , however, is not a suitably arranged and rehashed book of news items but a fine chronicle of the events that marked Rajat's life. Personally I've read most of these accounts in the published articles but still came to know for the first time in Sandipan's book that Raj had a brother who too ran a similar but smaller hedge fund company called Sedna capital. It was while investigating Sedna Capital's trades that SEC lawyer  Andrew Michaelson chanced upon Raj's company, Galleon and armed with an anonymous letter that pointed to rampant inside trading in Galleon , Andrew caught the first small fish called Roomy Khan and used her to trap Raj. It was only later that the much acclaimed Preet Bharara took up the criminal case from the civil proceedings of SEC to trap Anil Kumar and finally the big fish Rajat.The entire account makes for exciting reading and Sandipan's style of writing is easy although nearly half the book he'd have wracked his head to not to make it appear like  a news article since most of his sources were precisely that.

Fallen Angel also deals elaborately on the contentious issues of using circumstantial evidences like taped conversations and no other evidence to bring down a man of epic proportions as the issue was debated and dissected during the pre-trial stage . Accounts of Rajat's character and style of leadership from highly-placed friends and colleagues can be real textbook material in management courses on leadership & motivation. Sandipan correctly paints Rajat as a strategic thinker and adviser with tremendous amount of networking & fundraising capabilities.

Its difficult to say why he allegedly did what he did but possibly Sandipan's Fallen Angel had a permanent flaw in his strategic thinking that often besets men who have not seen failures ever in their lives. In conclusion , Fallen Angel is a great first-book on Rajat but it leaves the reader dissatisfied that the author instead of dwelling more on the assertion of moral rights of the key players in the case chose to assert his own. Maybe , another book in a few years time with more material from primary  research would be welcome.     

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