You may have glossed over the wild news that’s poured out of the UK recently, but it’s important stuff indeed, especially when it comes to the country’s new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, whose backstory has deep and surprising American connections.
I’ll get to the good stuff about Sunak in a moment, but first a word about the connection between America and England. France or Israel may think they have a special relationship with the US – but they are fighting for second place. We had ties to England dating back to the ill-fated colony of Virginia in 1584, and for the next five centuries no country was closer.
Winston Churchill described the US-British relationship as “special” in a 1946 speech in Fulton, Missouri, with President Harry Truman. Yes, we have a few differences: cold beer vs. warm beer, color vs. color, soccer vs. soccer. But we have a lot more in common. The US and UK share a love of the British royal family and amazing cross-cultural mashups when it comes to rock music, fashion and television.
Economic relations between the world’s largest and sixth largest economies – after India, Germany, Japan and China – also play a crucial role. According to the US Embassy on the UK website, the US and UK are each other’s #1 source of foreign direct investment.
There’s more to it than that, says Wall Street investor Ann Berry, a Brit with a Harvard MBA. The US needs all the allies it can get given tensions with Russia, Saudi Arabia and China, she notes.
“Historical allies are becoming increasingly relevant in the modern world as global allegiances become less transparent, more ephemeral and more transactional,” she said. “I think the UK is still a friend of the US, I think it will remain a friend to us. And it’s still an interpreter this side of the Atlantic when it comes to figuring out how to play in Europe.”
The UK is facing significant economic problems, some due to imbalances in universal supply demand, others due to specific UK circumstances, some of which stem from Brexit or leaving the EU almost two years ago. This led to multinational companies moving their European headquarters from London, labor shortages and trade tensions. The rising dollar and high energy prices are causing further pain.
That struggling economy is falling into the lap of Britain’s new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (pronounced REE-she SUE-nack), leader of the Tory party that has been in power for 12 years. He takes over from Liz Truss, whose bumpy tenure as UK Prime Minister ended after just six weeks amid extreme market volatility.
Sunak’s financial expertise should prove invaluable in this new role and markets have already stabilised. The new prime minister not only has ties to the financial world, but also deep ties to the US
The new prime minister is a man of many firsts. At 42, he is the youngest prime minister since William Pitt (the younger), who took office in 1783 at the age of 24. Sunak, who was born in Britain, is the first Prime Minister of Indian descent. He is also the first former hedge fund manager, the first with a Stanford MBA and the first to work at Goldman Sachs.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these American connections. After graduating from Oxford in 2001, Rishi joined Goldman in London as an analyst, where he spent a time alongside the aforementioned Ann Berry.
“He was very smart, analytical, very articulate and a really pleasant character,” she says. “Even then, he was very focused on making sure he was doing something that would have a broader impact.”
Sunak left Goldman and went to Stanford on a Fulbright scholarship, where he received an MBA in 2006. There is some color to his Stanford days in a 2020 biography of Sunak (how many 40-year-olds justify that?) entitled (one hopes not literally) “Going for Broke”, written by Lord Michael Ashcroft, a 76-year-old billionaire businessman and Tory politician. Ashcroft writes that Silicon Valley dazzled Sunak and that he once commented on how it’s possible to take a 10-minute drive across the Bay Area and pass hundreds of companies that have transformed people’s lives.
The book addresses the rigors of Stanford, and one of his classmates, Maria Anguiano, told the author, “Rishi handled it very well. He was always very positive.” Another student there, Rashad Bartholomew, recalls partying in earnest, but noted that Sunak didn’t drink, but sometimes took part in some low-stakes poker games.
After graduating from business school at Stanford, Sunak worked at hedge funds in London, including The Children’s Investment Fund (known as TCI), which is run by British billionaire Chris Hohn, who I was described by a Brit as “a fascinating guy who has a tremendous… taking risks” was described as hedge fund managers. At one time, Hohn made activist investments, including targeting American railroad company CSX, which traces its origins to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (or B&O), the oldest in the United States. CSX involvement became a muddled affair and ended badly for TCI. Sunak worked on the CSX investment and his role has been mentioned in litigation.
Sunak is extremely wealthy, with much of it descended from his wife Akshata Murthy, a Claremont McKenna graduate student he met at Stanford, and the daughter of billionaire Infosys founder Narayana Murthy. According to Business Today, an Indian magazine, Akshata owns 0.93% of Infosys worth about $700 million. Infosys’ core business was outsourcing thousands of US jobs to India, or replacing jobs in the US with foreigners. It has also repeatedly struck heads with US regulators.
But wait — there’s more Americana about the Murthys. Through Akshata and her family’s businesses, Sunak also has ties to companies that operate Wendy’s in India and a joint venture with Amazon in India, according to a Guardian investigation.
After all, according to the BBC, Sunak once had a US green card. He still has a luxury apartment in Santa Monica, the Guardian reports.
What I mean to say is that Sunak’s ties to America are as significant and unique as Britain itself, and they do reflect the changing nature of our relationship with England.
Think of it this way: in the 19th century our relationships were primarily commercial, perhaps best symbolized by Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-born American steel baron known for his philanthropy in the US and British Empire. In the 20th century, our military alliance with Britain was paramount, with Winston Churchill, much loved (and to some extent reciprocated) by Americans, emblematic of that alliance. And now in the 21st century, with the financial climber who better than Sunak, a former Wall Street man with an American MBA, might be the latest representation of Anglo-Americanism.
Rishi Sunak: As British/American as steak and kidney – and apple pie.
This article was published in a Saturday morning brief on October 29th. Get the Morning Brief delivered straight to your inbox by 6:30am ET Monday through Friday. Subscribe to
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