Friday, August 16, 2013

The Billionaire's Apprentice

The subtitle of this book gives away the content: “The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund”.  The author is Anita Raghavan, a Malaysian woman who spent 18 years with the Wall Street Journal, then became the London Bureau Chief for Forbes.  Ms. Raghavan knows her subject, and her long book smothers you with facts, mostly about the bright but opportunity-starved youths from India who, after graduating from IIT (the India Institute of Technology), trekked to the Harvard Business School or Wharton and thence to Wall Street. Now, as the book shows, they are everywhere: investment banks, hedge funds, consultants and the SEC. They are the bad guys, but they are also the good guys who catch the bad guys.

The plot centers on Raj Rajaratnam (the billionaire), a securities analyst and the founder and leader of the Galleon Fund, a hugely successful hedge fund based in New York.  The Feds, suspecting that Galleon's traders are using inside information to give them an “edge” in stock trading, slowly but methodically built their case, using “willing cooperators” (tippers and tippees who traded information for softer sentences) and court-approved telephone wire taps. Eventually the net was closed, and Raj is now in jail. 

This should have been a great summer read, with cops, robbers, sex, money, etc. There are colorful characters, a Gatsbyesque milieu with lavish parties and international travel, an obsessive chief investigator (Indian, of course), and ambitious young women who feed Raj market-moving information. Unfortunately, though Ms Raghavan is probably a great reporter, she is not a skilled writer. A good editor might have helped. As it is, the story of the chase is interrupted too often by chapters about life in India. It is a sociological tract at war with a suspense story, and the suspense story loses.

So, unless you have a voyeur’s interest in watching Raj crash and burn or a lawyer’s interest in the construction of an insider-information case, you can skip the 425-page text (plus about 70 pages of notes) and open the Complete Short Stories of Evelyn Waugh, as I just did.