Rishi who? Sunak says Stanford Business School changed his life, but few people remember him Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak said attending California’s Stanford Business School changed his life. Stanford “teaches you to think more broadly,” said a venture capital podcast last year. Instead of a “more gradualist mindset”, studying in the heart of Silicon Valley encouraged him to take a “slightly bigger, more dynamic approach to change”, the former UK chancellor said.

While Stanford clearly left its mark on him, it’s less clear whether Sunak left a big mark on Stanford, one of highest ranked business schools in the world. After receiving a Fulbright Scholarship to study in the USA, he graduated from a two-year MBA program in 2006.

Stanford is a bustling place, and a dozen professors and lecturers from that era told the Guardian they couldn’t remember teaching the man running to be the next UK prime minister.

Among them were teachers in some of the school’s signature courses: Irv Grousbeck, a business expert; Andy Rachleff, who leads lectures on innovation; Charles O’Reilly, who teaches courses on leadership; and Carole Robin, one of the teachers of Interpersonal Dynamics, a popular elective students refer to as “in touch”.

While giving a lecture at a prestigious business school in London last year, Sunak, now 42 and also an Oxford University alumni, quoted one of his “inspirational” professors at Stanford, Nobel laureate in economics Paul Romer and described the impact of Romer’s lecture on innovation. “I don’t remember ever communicating with him,” Romer told the Guardian.

Jeffrey Pfeffer, who teaches the renowned course called The Paths to Power, posted on LinkedIn that Sunak was among his students and that he hopes they will learn lessons about power, that they will “rise to positions where they can have leverage to change the world.”

When asked if he remembered Sunak, Pfeffer said he “didn’t have the bandwidth to answer that query” because he was just about to travel.

Another professor, James Van Horne, initially said he had not taught Sunak, but later found a record of him being enrolled in one of his corporate finance classes. “He was a good student and a good co-operator, but I don’t remember more than that,” Van Horne wrote.

Robert Joss, dean of the business school at the time, said he barely remembers Sunaka, but vaguely remembers him as “a very bright and very good student.” “My impression of all our students was that they were excellent,” said Joss, who retired in 2009.

With about 400 students in each graduating class of the business school, Joss said, it wasn’t possible to get to know everyone in depth, and as administrators, “you remember the students who got into trouble or the students who won the big prizes.”

Sunak was not listed among the students in his 2006 MBA class awarded prizes at graduation because I’m a honey top 10% academically, for service to the university or for contributing to the school’s social culture and sense of fun. Dozens of his classmates did not respond to requests to share memories or declined to comment.

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Joss said he has a stronger memory of another MBA student in Sunak’s year: Akshata Murty, his future wife, whom he remembers as “very bright, very smart.” The dean knew her parents because NR Narayana Murthy, her father and the billionaire founder of Infosys, was on the advisory board of the Stanford Business School.

It’s common for Stanford classmates to meet and marry, a trend he sees clearly in the alumni magazine, Joss said.

Four years after Murty and Sunak married in Bengaluru in 2009, they made a “generous” donation to the Stanford Business School to fund social innovation grant. A university spokesman declined to comment on the amount donated.

The couple also gave $3 million to Claremont McKenna, a small private liberal arts college outside Los Angeles where Murty earned degrees in economics and French. She was a member of Claremont McKenna’s board of trustees since 2011.

Their donation in 2018 funded the Murty Sunak Quantitative and Computational Laboratory at the faculty. The couple said the gift was partly inspired by Murty’s father’s favorite motto: “In God we trust. And everyone else has to put data on the table.”

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