Mitt Romney has had many avatars. He was the son of a former Governor (George Romney of Michigan), so he came from the pedigree as he waltzed his way into Harvard to earn both a Juris Doctor (JD) and an MBA.
Romney, of course, had his pick of jobs upon graduating. He was the crème de la crème in the country’s best and most competitive law school and business school, double accolades.
Companies and consultancies came calling, and he accepted his job at what was back then, viewed as a relatively middle-of-the-road consulting firm, Boston Consulting Group (BCG). He would then forge his biggest private-sector success with competitor Bain & Company, whom he joined in 1977. He would rise to the highest echelons as CEO and then help co-found the spin-off in Bain Capital, the private equity arm that became lucrative, adding to Romney’s personal coffers and professional credentials and launching him on his political track and earning him the gubernatorial seat in Massachusetts.
He touted his private sector success on the campaign trail in 2012, when he ran against the incumbent President Obama. His detractors painted him as out of touch with middle-class America and his private equity competence as a ruthless mercenary and corporate avarice, for killing thousands of jobs.
Rishi Sunak Had All His Bases Covered As British PM
“Corporations are people”, he would say, defending his record. His tone beggared the question, “What’s wrong with being a successful businessman having made money in a capitalist society that favours success?
“Nothing, except when you’re running for President,” said a CNN political analyst.
Frugality is after all political finesse.
Britain’s new Prime Minister has a similar but dissimilar story. Like Romney’s 2012 opponent, Barack Obama, Rishi Sunak is young, charismatic, orator par excellence who can trace his immigrant roots, and became the first person of colour to hold the highest political office in his land.
But like Romney, he comes from an intellectual pedigree in Winchester College and then the famed Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) degree at Oxford University that catapults one into Britain’s professional stratosphere. Like Romney, he has opulence, in his own private sector wealth working at Goldman Sachs and hedge funds, Stanford MBA, and has married into wealth, India’s most well-known billionaire IT family is his family. It’s little wonder why he earned the sobriquet of "Rishi Rich".
His pre-political resume runs riot, with stellar credentials, LinkedIn Goldstar of Winchester, Oxford, Stanford, Goldman Sachs, and then subsequent hedge fund careers. And perhaps some may quip, that this was the bare minimum, rather the entry ticket needed to be in the eligibility criteria as a possible suitor to marry into a family of such professional stature.
Sunak’s Banking Background Amiss From Social Media Portfolio
Sunak may not look like the British Prime Ministers of the past in features, but with his professional credentials, he fits into the old boys' club.
Goldman Sachs is the epitome of investment banks, so much so that there is an old adage, that one need not look too further to find a Goldman Sachs employee or a former one, because they would find a way to let you know within minutes of meeting them.
Sunak is an Obamaesque orator, and yet as reports note, he is rather tight-lipped about his Goldman career, which he has even taken off from his LinkedIn profile. Sunak worked at the New York-headquartered bank between 2001 and 2004 as a junior analyst focused on US stocks concerning railways and media.
It was a cataclysmic time for the bank, in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. Goldman reported that its profits dropped 25 percent and banks did what banks do best in troubled times, they bring out the hatchet men – layoffs. This, of course, was a mild harbinger of the cataclysmic events that would unfold with the financial crisis of 2008.
Goldman was soon a ticket to Stanford where Sunak gained both an MBA and a spouse-to-be, meeting his future wife Akshata Murthy, daughter of Narayan Murthy, Infosys co-founder billionaire, and philanthropist.
Sunak’s post-MBA career included his time working for hedge funds such as TCI fund (The Children’s Investment Fund) and Theleme Partners, an equity investment firm based in California, founded by people he knew from his Stanford days. The fund was reported to have a war chest of $700mn.
Like his Goldman analyst years, there is no mention of Sunak’s subsequent career in the big bad world of hedge funds on LinkedIn.
Reports allude as to what Sunak did at TCI, where “aspersions have been cast upon the fact that he only had C4 partner authorisation according to his FCA registration. His other colleagues had CF30 customer-facing registrations or CF26 trading registrations”.
The Holmes’ consensus was that Sunak schmoozed and mused more than he used his financial acumen to be a portfolio manager at the fund. He would later join the investment firm Catamaran Ventures, owned by Mr. Murthy, his father-in-law, where his wife, Akshata still works.
Is Sunak Playing Safe by Skipping Professional Details?
Just like Liz Truss’ Prime Ministerial reign, all this has been erased and absent on Sunak’s LinkedIn profile. It reads the way he would want it to read, like a good public servant, who in 2015, entered Conservative politics by standing for MP in Richmond, and soon after, became the Chancellor of the Exchequer within five brief years, where he deftly handled the precarious financial situation during the pandemic and then, within two years, to the hallowed turfs of Number 10 (second time is a charm though).
Going back to lessons from the US elections of 2012, Sunak’s private sector profile is the envy of many at a party, but when it comes to political parties, especially Labour, words like Goldman Sachs and hedge funds are fodder for the “Corbynesque” ilk of the Labour, and convenient way to paint you in a “Romneyesque” way of “out of touch”.
Political careers may be ephemeral (just ask Liz Truss), but the populace seldom forgets a politician’s past, especially when they’re running for or are holding higher office. Labour, Sunak’s detractors, and some of the electorates have already drawn umbrage from his banking career, wealth by marriage, and his wife’s earlier non-dom tax status.
Sunak critiqued his competitor-turned-predecessor Liz Truss for “fairy tale” economic policies that sent markets in a tailspin, as Truss her Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng spooked investors with drastic cuts. Economic chaos meant political chaos, and another Tory PM fell, and Sunak, within, 45 days was given a Hail Mary, a second shot, but this time at an open goal - no real competition.
Sunak so far has been able to appease global financial markets and is seen as a competent handler with a renewed sense of austerity in an era of fiscal restraint. Sunak will have his cheerleaders from London’s financial community, which has felt ostracised in Downing Street since the financial crisis. During his time as Chancellor, he was a strong promoter of reforms designed to boost the competitiveness of London. As a young, tech-savvy, finance savant, Sunak understands crypto and is a supporter, but crypto regulation will be Jeremy Hunt’s purview.
The elephant in the room will be Brexit, and as a staunch Brexit supporter, he will have to deal with the political fallout with EU neighbours and the economic hassles of a non-EU pact. Sunak may have beaten the drums for Brexit, but the chickens do come to roost. After all, the theme in Number 10 since David Cameron, has been Brexit, except one Prime Minister after another.
(Akshobh Giridharadas is based out of Washington DC, and writes on diverse topics such as geopolitics, business, tech and sports. He is a two time TEDx and Toastmasters public speaker and a graduate from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy. He tweets @Akshobh. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)