Akshata Murty & Rishi Sunak: The Power Couple of Multiculturalism — ON ONE OF THE RARE OCCASIONS SHE HAS spoken publicly, back in 2010, Akshata Murty said her mother was her friend, philosopher and guide. Sudha Murthy’s capability to balance career, family and society left an impact on her daughter. No surprise then that Akshata’s life is mirroring her mother’s in many ways. It was Sudha’s investment of ₹10,000 that started Infosys. It was Akshata’s wealth that freed her husband, Rishi Sunak, from life as an investment banker and speeded up his transition to politics. When NR Narayana Murthy married Sudha, he was a research associate at IIM Ahmedabad, and she was an engineer with TELCO. He was earning less than her. Yet, when it came to officially working in Infosys, Sudha had to take a backseat after the frenetic initial years helping set it up as cook, programmer, clerk, secretary, and office assistant, in order to raise their children. Indeed, when Akshata and Rishi moved to England, it was she who set up the London office of Catamaran Ventures where Rishi also worked. Soon, however, the demands of his political career and their two daughters meant that Akshata took a step back.
Now, as the wife of the prime minister of England, Akshata will possibly be busier than ever. And though she continues to manage her investment portfolio, her long-standing dream of her own fashion label, Akshata Designs, which represents the talent and diversity of Indian workmanship, has not taken off. But with a 0.93 per cent stake in Infosys, according to the company’s latest annual report, estimated to be worth about ₹5,900 crore, she is clearly wealthy.
Among the many things Akshata and Rishi Sunak have in common is that they are offspring of parents who are equal partners in every way. After briefly acknowledging her disappointment at being excluded from Infosys, Sudha Murthy has said on record that she used it as an opportunity to do other things: teach computer science, write, and also eventually run the Infosys Foundation. Sunak’s mother Usha was a pharmacist who set up her own store even as her husband was a well-regarded general practitioner. Little Rishi often delivered medicines on his bicycle.
The British media likes to see Akshata and Rishi as a gilded power couple with sprawling properties in London and California, sharing a love for luxury labels and throwing champagne and caviar garden parties. But they are more a power partnership, firmly committed to each other and to the middle-class values of “humility and integrity”, two qualities with which Sunak said he would govern.
As often happens with modern marriages, the balance of power undergoes changes over time. When Akshata married Rishi in 2009, it was a big event in India, with the formal reception at The Leela Palace in Bengaluru attended by the city’s notables. She was the heiress to a fortune, both brilliant and wealthy. He was brilliant, but in a way many NRI grooms are. Reports of that time usually mention him only as “fellow Stanford MBA” in the “wedding of the year”. Times have certainly changed since then.
THEY MET AT STANFORD, IN A STATE FAMILIAR to Akshata who had studied at Claremont McKenna College, in Claremont, California. Her uncle Shrinivas Kulkarni (Sudha’s brother) is a renowned physicist at Caltech, in Pasadena, California, separated by a mere half-hour drive. Rishi had done a PPE degree at Oxford, and worked at Goldman Sachs for three years. Both had enrolled for MBA, with Rishi winning a Fulbright scholarship. Their courtship lasted five years, and was long distance for a while as Rishi returned to London in 2006 to work for The Children Investment Fund run by billionaire Chris Hohn. When they married in 2009, it seemed California would be their eventual home. Rishi joined a new hedge fund there called Theleme Partners. In 2011, Akshata set up Akshata Designs, where according to an interview in Vogue India, she worked with artists in remote Indian villages to create designs, which were about “authenticity, craftsmanship and protecting a rich heritage.” It didn’t last and in 2013, Akshata set up the London branch of the investment firm Catamaran Ventures, which invests in startups and is owned by Narayana Murthy. Both she and Rishi joined as directors, and London became their new home.
Rishi transferred his shares to her just before entering parliament.
She has held direct stakes in at least six other UK companies, including New & Lingwood, which measures Etonians for their tailcoats and sells silk dressing gowns for £2,500 each. Murty has also held shares in a UK business that operates Jamie Oliver’s Pizzeria, Jamie’s Italian and Wendy’s outlets in India, the nanny agency Koru Kids, and the gym operator Digme Fitness, where she is a director. Soroco, a software company cofounded by her brother Rohan, lists Akshata as a director of its UK arm.
Among the many things Akshata and Rishi Sunak have in common is that they are offspring of parents who are equal partners in every way. After briefly acknowledging her disappointment at being excluded from Infosys, Sudha Murthy has said on record that she used it as an opportunity to do other things: teach computer science, write, and also eventually run the Infosys Foundation. Sunak’s mother Usha was a pharmacist who set up her own store even as her husband was a well-regarded general practitioner
Rishi’s connection to the Conservatives was forged at Winchester with his best friend James Forsyth, who is now political editor at The Spectator, once famously edited by Rishi’s former boss, Boris Johnson. Forsyth’s wife Allegra Stratton was formerly Boris Johnson’s press secretary. Forsyth was Rishi’s best man, and vice versa.
The Sunaks are quite the hosts. Sometimes, it has even caused some embarrassment as when Askhata served tea to journalists earlier in the year in cups worth ₹3,600 each—the British media picked up on that rather than the fact that the then chancellor’s wife was serving them tea herself. According to The Guardian, their main home, before 10 Downing Street, was a five-bedroom mews house in South Kensington. The property, which they bought in 2010 for a reported £4.5m, is now estimated by estate agents to be worth more than £7m.They also own a flat on the nearby Old Brompton Road, which is said to be used by family and friends when they come to visit. The couple own a Georgian manor house estimated to be worth £2m in the North Yorkshire village of Kirby Sigston. The house, which they bought for £1.5m before Rishi became MP for the Richmond (Yorks) constituency, is undergoing a £250,000 development to add an indoor swimming pool, hot tub, tennis club and gym complex. Both Akshata and Rishi are reportedly fitness fanatics who do dawn workouts daily. In California, Akshata owns a $7.2m penthouse apartment with views of the Pacific Ocean.
Yet, when growing up, the Murthys lived in a modest two-bedroom house without servants and TV. Despite that, and a celebrated case where the parents refused to buy Akshata a new dress for an event, she developed a love for fashion. She also became the family’s designated shopper.
Akshata remains fiercely Indian, as he is British. Earlier in the year when her non-domicile status became controversial, she wrote on social media: “He’s never asked me to abandon my Indian citizenship, ties to India or my business affairs, despite the ways in which such a move would have simplified things for him politically.” Her husband revealed in a recent interview that one of the secrets behind their happy marriage was that they were very different people. While he described himself as “incredibly tidy”, he said his wife was “very messy” but also the more spontaneous one.
The British can’t decide what to do with the devoted Sunaks. As one writer huffed in the Tatler, quoting an MP: “He’s got an extremely devoted wife. She’s got no problem with him staying out until midnight doing what has to be done. If I did that, my wife would have my head for dinner.” Clearly, he hasn’t had any dealings with the Murthy women.
Media house: OPEN
Link to original article: https://openthemagazine.com/cover-stories/rishi-sunak-and-akshata-murty-a-grounded-partnership/
Notes: apart from title change, the article has remained the same.
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