March 29 (The Guardian) – Just months after Akshata Murthy was born in April 1980, she was sent to live with her paternal grandparents after her parents moved hundreds of miles away to Mumbai for work.
“Your mother and I were young then and struggling to find our feet in our careers,” her father wrote in a letter to Akshata, which was published in Legacy; Letters from eminent parents to their daughter. “Two months after your birth in Hubli [a city near Goa], we brought you to Mumbai, but discovered quickly enough that it was a difficult task to nurture a child and manage careers side by side. So, we decided that you would spend the initial years of your life with your grandparents in Hubli.”
Her father, NR Narayana Murthy, a young computer programmer who would go on to launch IT services company Infosys and become a billionaire, said leaving Akshata behind was one of the hardest decisions he had had to make. “Every weekend, I would take the plane to Belgaum [a nearby airport] and then hire a car to Hubli. It was very expensive, but I couldn’t do without seeing you.”
Her mother, Sudha Murthy, a computer scientist and engineer, was the first female engineer to work for India’s then largest carmaker, part of the Tata conglomerate, and is now a philanthropist working to improve public healthcare.
When Akshata did join her parents, and later her brother, Rohan, in Mumbai, life might not have been as relaxed as it was with her grandparents in Hubli. Sudha “decided early on that there would be no TV in our home so that there would be time for things like studying, reading, discussions, and meeting friends”, according to the book.
Every evening, 8pm to 10pm was dedicated to “pursuits that brought the family together in a productive environment”. For Akshata and Rohan, that meant homework, while their parents “read books on history, literature, physics, mathematics, and engineering, or did any office work”.
As the family became increasingly rich, Akshata’s parents eschewed hiring a private car and driver to take her school, preferring to stick with the “regular autorickshaw” where she made “great friends with the ‘rickshaw uncle’”.
Murthy went to the private liberal Claremont McKenna College in California, where she studied economics and French, before moving to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. She worked for Deloitte and Unilever before studying for an MBA at Stanford University.
It was at Stanford that she met Rishi Sunak, who had won a prestigious Fulbright scholarship. Within four years, they were married in a two-day ceremony in Bengaluru, attended by cricketing royalty including the Indian spinner Anil Kumble and the family of Rahul Dravid, the former captain of the national cricket team.
Her father said he was a “little sad and jealous” when Akshata first told him of her new life partner. “But when I met Rishi and found him to be all that you had described him to be – brilliant, handsome and, most importantly, honest – l understood why you let your heart be stolen.”
After Stanford, she joined a Dutch clean technology incubator fund in San Francisco as marketing director in 2007, but left quickly to start her own fashion label, Akshata Designs.
“I understand that there may be some curiosity around what I’m doing given my parents’ achievements, but I hope that one day this business is able to stand on its own feet and I’m able to speak on its merit rather than anything else,” she told the Times of India in 2009 when she founded the business. “This is my passion and I couldn’t imagine being engaged in anything else but the business of this venture.”
The business, however, collapsed within three years.
Money comes in from her 0.91% stake in Infosys, which is valued at about $900m (£690m), making Murthy richer than the Queen (£365m).
The couple also own London-based Catamaran Ventures UK, which invests in startups “with the view to future capital growth and income distributions”. Sunak transferred his shares to her just before entering parliament, and she is now the sole owner.
She has direct shareholdings in at least six other UK companies, including gentlemen’s outfitters New & Lingwood, which measures Etonians for their tailcoats and sells silk dressing gowns for £2,500 each.
Murthy also holds 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 gym operator Digme Fitness, where she is a director. Both New & Lingwood and Digme furloughed staff during the pandemic. Soroco, a software company co-founded by her brother, lists Murthy as a director of its UK arm.
Murthy and Sunak own at least four homes in the UK and California, including a five-bedroom mews house in Kensington, valued at almost £7m, and a £1.5m Georgian mansion set in 12 acres in Sunak’s North Yorkshire constituency, as well as a flat on the Old Brompton Road in west London.
They also own a Santa Monica beach penthouse valued at £5.5m, which the property developer describes as having “stunning views of the Santa Monica mountains” and where you “wake up to the sound of waves crashing against the shore”.