Rishi Sunak, who unveiled his autumn Budget on Wednesday, is one of Britain’s highest-spending peacetime Chancellors. He’s no stranger to playing with large amounts of cash – the 41-year-old former banker and hedge funder is thought to be the richest MP in Westminster. The Sun puts his net worth at £200m.
What’s he got to show for it?
Sunak has been dubbed the “maharajah of the Yorkshire Dales” because of the lavish summer parties he holds in his North Yorkshire constituency. Uniformed staff serve champagne, although not to the teetotal Chancellor, at his £1.5m Georgian mansion set in 12 acres of grounds. In August Sunak got planning permission for a gym, pool and tennis court. He owns two properties in London – a five-bedroom Kensington mews house bought for £4.5m in 2010 and a flat in Fulham for putting up visiting relatives – and an apartment in Santa Monica, California. His property portfolio is worth an estimated £10m in total. On top of this, there’s the Chancellor’s official flat in Downing Street – redecorated “entirely at his own expense” and with far less controversy than Boris Johnson’s – and Dorneywood, a grace-and-favour manor in Buckinghamshire. Sunak is also a fan of pricy gadgets, including an £180 Ember “smart mug” that keeps drinks hot and a £1,750 Peloton exercise bike.
How did he make his money?
At Oxford, Sunak had little interest in gossipy student politics – he was president of the investment society. After graduating with a first in PPE, he spent three years at the cut-throat investment bank Goldman Sachs before heading across the pond in 2004 to do an MBA at Stanford. On his return to London two years later, he joined the hedge fund TCI as a junior partner, becoming a multimillionaire while still in his mid-twenties. During his time there, the hedge fund launched an activist investor campaign that led to the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) being bailed out with £45.5bn in taxpayer money.
And RBS, which is largely owned by the state, is now overseen by Sunak’s Treasury?
Funny how things work out. The controversial deal made each of the fund’s partners an average of nearly £5m, but both the Treasury and TCI say Sunak played no part in it. He left in 2009 to become a founding partner at another hedge fund, Theleme. In each job he accrued the reputation of a smooth, clean-cut dealmaker rather than a backroom number-cruncher. He’s also good at keeping in touch with old colleagues: Richard Sharp, his former Goldman boss, was appointed as an official adviser before being made BBC chairman in February.
So Sunak’s hedge-fund years set him up nicely?
Actually, much of his wealth comes not from his finance career, but from his wife’s family. He met Akshata Murthy, also 41, while at Stanford, and they got married in India in 2009 – 1,000 guests attended the two-day ceremony in Bangalore. Akshata is the daughter of NR Narayana Murthy, an Indian software entrepreneur worth an estimated $4.3bn. A former Marxist engineer, the 75-year-old is a household name in India, where Sunak’s name is invariably prefixed with “Murthy son-in-law” in the press. Murthy founded the tech company Infosys, now worth $95bn, in his front room in 1981 with a 10,000-rupee loan (about £1,800 today) from his wife. Dubbed the “father of India’s IT sector” by Time magazine, he built his fortune on the wave of outsourcing that “transformed India into the world’s back office”.
An intimidating man to have as your father-in-law
Maybe, but Sunak’s charm worked its magic: Murthy made him a director at Catamaran, the family’s private investment firm, and even flew in to leaflet for Sunak’s election as MP. Murthy’s own politics are more circumspect: he has generally been supportive of India’s Hindu nationalist PM, Narendra Modi, although he did criticise Modi’s government for its religious intolerance in 2019. For all his wealth, Murthy likes to cultivate a humble persona: in a viral open letter to his daughter, he wrote: “The simplest things in life are often the happiest and they are for free.”
Does that mean giving away the family cash?
Not quite. Akshata has a 0.91% stake in Infosys, The Guardian reported last November – that’s worth about £630m today. The Murthys have a joint venture with Amazon in India, worth £900m a year, and Akshata has a host of investments, including a stake in New & Lingwood, a Mayfair tailor that makes tailcoats for Etonians and sells £2,500 silk dressing gowns. That wasn’t mentioned in Sunak’s declaration of financial interests last year, leading to accusations of potential conflicts of interest. Infosys alone won taxpayer contracts worth £22m from 2015 to 2020. (The Treasury insisted his declarations had “followed the ministerial code to the letter”.) As it is, the Tory golden boy remains untarnished.
Is Sunak’s story one of rags to riches?
His parents were immigrants – ethnic Punjabis whose families both moved from east Africa to Britain – but they settled in Southampton and did well for themselves. Sunak’s GP father, Yashvir, and pharmacist mother, Usha, gave their three children a solidly middle-class upbringing, complete with an Audi and a gardener. They sent Sunak to Winchester, alma mater to five previous Chancellors (and one PM). Sunak became head boy and was close friends with James Forsyth, now The Spectator’s political editor. It was this connection, rather than Oxford Union showboating, that tempted Sunak into politics. But his time in finance left its mark: his mind still “works in Excel”, a City contemporary told Tatler last year. Sunak’s two big bets – on Brexit and Boris, both of which he supported vocally and early – have paid off. How long his luck holds could shape the future of British politics.