From Green Beach to Whitehall: CMC alum Murty moves into Downing Street as Britain’s new ‘First Lady’

Akshata Murtry and others in the audience hold up a poster that read 'We're Ready for Rishi'
CMC alumna and trustee Akshata N. Murty shows support for her husband Rishi Sunak, Britain’s current prime minister. (Courtesy: Flickr)

Claremont McKenna College now has a direct connection to 10 Downing Street. On Oct. 25, Rishi Sunak became Britain’s first leader of color and third prime minister in two months, following Liz Truss’s abrupt resignation. The 42-year-old former banker is married to CMC alumna and trustee Akshata N. Murty CM ‘02. 

The couple has supported CMC over the years by starting the CMC in Bangalore program in 2016, endowing a faculty position in the Philosophy, Politics and Economics department and committing $3 million in 2018 to fund the Murty Sunak Quantitative and Computing Lab, a hub for integrating data and computer science into all fields of research and study. Murty and Sunak have also been recognized on Founders Wall at the Bauer Center for their contributions to the college. 

Murty grew up in Bangalore, India and is the daughter of N. R. Narayan Murty, the billionaire founder of the information technology company Infosys, and Sudha Murty, an engineer, author and philanthropist. Murty owns a 0.93 percent stake in her father’s company, which is valued at around $715 million, making her wealthier than members of the British royal family

Murty graduated from CMC in 2002 with a dual degree in Economics and French, according to her CMC donor profile. She went on to Stanford Business School, where she met Sunak, who was on a Fulbright scholarship to get his MBA after studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University. The pair married in 2009. 

In 2011, Murty became a trustee of CMC while also serving on the board of The Exploratorium, a museum of science, technology and arts in San Francisco. 

In 2015, a few years after the pair moved back to the U.K. to launch a venture capital firm, Sunak’s political career kicked off. He was elected as the Conservative MP for Richmond in 2015 and supported Brexit in the 2016 referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union. Under Prime Minister Teresa May, Sunak was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Local Government in 2018. After Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, Sunak was appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury and later became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2020, a role equivalent to the finance minister in other countries.

“I don’t think most CMC students knew that Akshata Murthy is a CMC alum and that she is married to Rishi Sunak, let alone that our Quantitative and Computing Lab, where students get calculus tutoring, is named after them.”

Nisha Singh CMC ’23

During his tenure as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sunak faced scrutiny when British media found that Murty claims non-domicile status, meaning that she does not pay taxes on the millions of dollars in annual dividends she earns from Infosys. The news emerged as Sunak imposed tax hikes during a cost-of-living crisis in Britain caused by high inflation and energy prices. 

Sunak is now the wealthiest prime minister in U.K. history, with a net worth of $830 million, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, an annual ranking of the wealthiest people in Britain. The bulk of his fortune comes from Murty’s shares in Infosys. 

He assumed the role of Prime Minister after the resignation of Liz Truss just 44 days after she took office. Sunak and Truss faced off just two months ago in a party contest, with Truss winning the conservative party vote. 

Mr. Sunak’s replacement of Ms. Truss represents a move away from economic populism in favor of fiscal conservatism and greater government responsibility,” CMC government professor Hilary Appel said. “In the previous party election, Truss was able to prevail at Sunak’s expense because she was willing to run on a platform of tax cuts and high spending, whereas Sunak refused to embrace this popular but irresponsible position. He rejected ‘having your cake and eating too,’ as Sunak put it. He said the markets would punish the U.K., and he was right.”

Now, as Sunak takes the reins, Britons should expect austerity, according to Nigel Boyle, a professor of political studies at Pitzer College.

“Sunak’s austerity will cause further social crisis,” Boyle told TSL through email. “This time a disciplined, if rather unimaginative, Labour Party will seek to capitalize on the unpopularity of the policies.”

Boyle also said that he believes Sunak’s experience and worldview will influence his foreign policy to “revolve around a U.K.-India-Silicon Valley axis rather than a U.K.-EU axis — and his CMC connection is certainly a factor here.”

However, Boyle cautioned that the United States is not deeply invested in negotiating a new trade deal.

“While India, and the Indian diaspora, is entitled to a level of glee about someone of Indian origin now serving as premier at the heart of the empire, the U.K. is not a globally important actor anymore,” Boyle said. “Gavin Newsom oversees a bigger, more dynamic and more globally significant economy than does Rishi Sunak.”

CMC students reacted to the news from Britain this week with a variety of emotions.  Marshall Bessey CM ‘23 told TSL that he would love for Sunak to speak at CMC’s commencement ceremony this May. 

“Personally, I am ecstatic that the Conservative Party named Rishi Sunak the next U.K. Prime Minister,” Bessey said. “I have deep respect for his service as Chancellor of the Exchequer during the Covid-19 Pandemic, and I think that his experience during the Pandemic should help him as the U.K. faces a profound economic crisis.” 

Nisha Singh CMC ’23 said that many students at CMC didn’t know about Sunak and Murty’s connections to the college before this week. 

I don’t think most CMC students knew that Akshata Murthy is a CMC alum and that she is married to Rishi Sunak, let alone that our Quantitative and Computing Lab, where students get calculus tutoring, is named after them,” Singh said, adding that she doesn’t agree with his policies, particularly his Thatcherite economic policies. 

Nevertheless, Singh says there was significant buzz in the Indian community this week, in part because of Sunak’s appointment. 

“It was a crazy 48 hours for Indian people everywhere, between a crazy cricket win the day before, Diwali and Rishi Sunak becoming prime minister of the U.K.,” she said. “Whatsapp was blowing up!”

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