Rajat Gupta is a celebrated and sometimes controversial name in the world of business. The journey of his life is inspirational: from a childhood in Kolkata to a glowing career as the global head of one of the world’s best consultancy firms, he had it all. Until it all came crashing down. 

How did Gupta overcome the setbacks in his life? Harappa Chairman and Founder Pramath Raj Sinha caught up with Gupta in the first installment of our Visionary Speaker Series for a conversation on the importance of being able to tackle any unexpected setbacks that life throws at you. 

Gupta’s story is well known. 

As he writes in his autobiography, Mind Without Fear, he lost his parents at an early age, the first of many setbacks he was to face in his life. He said it was the “biggest adversity” in his life, but despite tough times, his siblings and he decided to stay together “instead of getting packed off to various aunts and uncles”.

Gupta went on to get an undergraduate degree in engineering, then went to Harvard Business School, and eventually joined McKinsey & Company. It wasn’t a smooth ride: At McKinsey, he constantly reinvented himself with every move to a new country and with every new role. But this ability to keep moving forward and evolving has probably been one of Gupta’s biggest professional assets.

One thing that has kept him going is the implicit trust he has in the people he works with. He said his instinct is to keep trusting people until they actively give him a reason not to. 

"Most people have to work through others…jointly working to achieve a particular goal. If you make other people successful, they in turn will make you much more successful,” he said in the Visionary Speaker Series. The kind of trust that this builds between people is what also helps them grow in their performance.

The session then moved to a candid conversation about his prison time for insider trading. This was a big blow to his life, next only to the untimely loss of his parents. It was an especially difficult time in his life when his hard work and dedication to building his reputation was irrevocably damaged. This was also when he saw many friends, associates, colleagues, and acquaintances turn their backs on him. 

But instead of being a ‘victim’ in this situation, he “mustered up all the courage and strength to fight this”. He turned to the Bhagavad Gita during his time in prison, some of it in solitary confinement, to help him cope. 

One of the key takeaways from the session was his philosophy on personal success versus professional success. He said he couldn’t stress enough the importance of focusing on family and friends and not the intangible and transient gains from the world of work. 

In other words, strive to do the best you can for a role and task at hand, but don’t only keep working towards the next higher designation or promotion is Gupta’s advice.

Gupta’s journey shows you that even if you have too many setbacks and changes in your life, there are ways to help you tackle them. He spent two years in prison and then rebuilt his life. “Don’t get attached to your reputation,” he says. 

Like Gupta, you too can deal with any setbacks and challenges that life throws at you. Check out our Embracing Change course to equip yourself with all the necessary tools to take on these challenges.

We have many more inspiring discussions coming up in our Visionary Speaker Series. Stay tuned for more information on them!

Take charge of your self-growth by overcoming self-limiting beliefs with the Leading Self course from Harappa Education. Enroll now for our Online Learning Courses and pave your path to personal growth and development.

Suha Gangopadhyay is Specialist, Curriculum at Harappa Education. A graduate from University of Oxford, she wants to contribute to the growth of education studies in India, and dwells in a world where books are almighty.