Before Indra Nooyi became CEO of PepsiCo or Vikram Pandit took the reins at Citigroup, Rajat Gupta was the original “global Indian”, the first to head a major western business.
More than 17 years after first being elected head of McKinsey & Co, Gupta was charged last week in the same insider trading investigation that saw his friend, hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam, sentenced to 11 years in prison.
For hundreds of thousands of bright young men and women from India's huge middle class, Gupta and later Pandit and Nooyi were role models — case studies of how old-fashioned hard work could lead to success on a global scale.
“He kind of came to epitomize, if not exactly a rags-to- riches story, but more of how a person from a relatively humble background, out of sheer hard work and merit, could really rise to the top of the ladder,” said Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a political commentator.
“Regardless of the outcome, he’s done a lot for the world, and for India in particular,” said Pramod Bhasin, vice chairman and former CEO of Genpact , where Gupta was chairman before resigning in March.
It was success against a challenging background that made Gupta’s story compelling.
“Everybody cannot be born into an Ambani family,” said Sarthak Prakash, 24, a student at IIT-Delhi, referring to the Ambani brothers who inherited a multi-billion-dollar empire from their father. “Some of us will be born as middle-class people in Gupta families and we will have to study and pay our own way.”