To say that Rajat Gupta was greedy is a non-statement- the rest of us are not angels anyway. If we accept that living is, for the most part, one big ego trip, then it's impossible to keep greed out of the equation.
Some would argue that the issue is not greed per se. It is greed that goes beyond reasonable bounds, whatever these are. This is the line that most critics of Gupta have taken. He was alright during his McKinsey days, his downfall began when, in the company of fund managers and other Wall Street types, he began to entertain visions of moving from being a multi-millionaire to a billionaire. That is when things began to wrong. He would have been okay had he stuck to his multi-millionaire status, his mansion and three apartments. All of us need to survive, you know.
The inference, of course, is that people at the top who don't fall into this trap are people who have "managed" their greed- I teach at a b-school, so I guess I should be using the right expressions. That is how they end up as decent, law-abiding, tax-paying, non-insider trading citizens.
It was left to John Gapper of the FT to prick this delusion in an incisive article:
Like politicians, executives who reach the top are not saints – they must build alliances, defeat rivals and be highly ambitious. They may behave with nobility once in the job but that is not how they got there.
Studies have found that many executives share qualities with psychopaths. One study of British managers identified similar traits in both – superficial charm, grandiosity, lack of empathy, manipulativeness. These flaws, far from holding them back, had helped them rise.
There you have it. Being at the top in the corporate world is not about higher values or concern for mankind, much less about being a balanced guy with lots of inner harmony. It is the ruthless pursuit of self-interest, the indulgence of greed in every way, that takes people to the top. In the process, some transgress the law in obvious ways, some in not-so-obvious ways, and a great many are blind to any moral code but cannot be said to have violated laws. Again, some get caught, others don't.
Viewed thus, what happened in Gupta's case represents a continuum, not an abrupt discontinuity. His misfortune was that he happened to get caught. There must be many like him whom people still queue up to listen to, shake hands with, are eager to write about.
I will leave you to ponder Gapper's unsettling punchline:
The nastiest conclusion is that the “norms and expectations” of the corporate elite are corrupt – that at such heights, illegal information-sharing is no big deal.