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Famous HBS Alum Charged With Insider Trading

Rajat Gupta is an top adviser to many business schools

One of Harvard Business School’s most distinguished alums and a major adviser to five top business schools was charged today (March 1) with insider trading by the Securities & Exchange Commission. The SEC alleged that Rajat Gupta, a former director of Goldman Sachs and Procter & Gamble, was leaking boardroom details from both companies to a friend who racked up $18 million of illegal gains by trading on the information.

Gupta is the second Harvard MBA in less than a month to have been charged with insider trading. On Feb. 8th, Samir Barai, who graduated from Harvard in 1999, also was accused of insider trading by the government. But the charges against Gupta, who had in 1994 become the first non-Westerner to hold the top leadership position of McKinsey & Co., are even more shocking.

His was a storybook tale of achievement. He received his undergraduate degree in engineering from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in 1971. The first time he ever flew in an airplane was on the trip that brought him to Harvard and its MBA program. After graduating in 1973, Gupta applied for a job as an associate in McKinsey’s New York office but was turned down because he didn’t have an work experience. One of Gupta’s HBS professors, Walter Salmon, wrote to the manager of the New York office asking him to reconsider the decision. Some 21 years later, at the young age of 45, Gupta was elected McKinsey’s managing director, a post he held until 2003.

Now, 62, Gupta has been one of the most successful Indian-born businessmen of his generation. His success at McKinsey led to his board invitations at Goldman and P&G as well as on numerous advisory boards for top business schools, including Harvard, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, MIT’s Sloan School, and Wharton’s Lauder Institute of Management & International Studies. Gupta also has been instrumental in founding the Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad and remains its chairman of the board.

“Gupta was honored with the highest trust of leading public companies, and he betrayed that trust by disclosing their most sensitive and valuable secrets,” SEC enforcement chief Robert Khuzami said in a statement.

The 62-year-old Gupta is one of the highest-ranking corporate executives implicated in the government’s wide-ranging insider trading probe, which has resulted in criminal or civil charges against dozens of individuals.

According to the SEC complaint, Gupta leaked details about Warren Buffett’s $5 bilion investment in Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, founder of the hedge fund Galleon Group and a long-time friend and business associate. Gupta, who the SEC said invested in at least some Galleon hedge funds, also is accused of illegally tipping off his friend about quarterly earnings at Goldman and P&G, where he resigned as a director on Tuesday. An odd footnote to the story: It was a business school connection that brought the two together. Gupta and Rajaratnam, who is from Sri Lanka, met through the Indian School of Business. Rajaratnam, who originally came to the U.S. to attend Wharton, is a billionaire who will go on trial next week on criminal charges of insider trading, has been a major donor to ISB.

Gary Naftalis, a lawyer for Gupta, called the SEC allegations “totally baseless” and said his client had lost his entire $10 million investment in one of Galleon funds managed by Rajaratnam. “Mr. Gupta has done nothing wrong,” Naftalis said in a statement. “There is no allegation that Mr. Gupta traded in any of these securities or shared in any profits as part of any quid pro quo.”

The SEC alleged that Gupta tipped Rajaratnam about Goldman’s results for the second and fourth quarters of 2008, resulting in more than $16.6 million of illicit gains. It said he tipped Rajaratnam about Procter & Gamble’s results for the final quarter of 2008, resulting in more than $570,000 of profit.

The SEC said Gupta had at least two phone calls with Rajaratnam shortly before Goldman announced Berkshire’s investment in Goldman on September 23, 2008. The SEC charged that Gupta’s contacts with his friend included a call just before the market closed that day, immediately after Gupta disconnected from a phone link to the board meeting where Goldman approved the investment. Rajaratnam’s trades in Goldman based on these tips resulted in more than $900,000 of profit, the SEC said.