The education of Akshata Murty, the world’s most powerful Indian woman

akshata murty
Akshata Murty may be the First Lady of UK right now, but she is also a wealthy billionaire and savvy businesswoman. Source: Toby Melville/ Pool/AFP

Akshata Murty may be known as the UK’s newest prime minister Rishi Sunak’s wife.

But that’s not her first claim of fame. Long before she married Sunak, she was already part of India’s new royalty, with unimaginable wealth in a country where about 60% live on less than US$3.10 a day.

Akshata has an estimated fortune of US$869 million — a figure that makes her far richer than King Charles III, who together with his queen consort, reportedly have US$441 million.

This is thanks to her entrepreneur father N. R. Narayana Murthy — Akshata spells her last name differently from her father — who’s known as the “Steve Jobs of India.”

Narayana co-founded tech giant Infosys in 1981, kickstarting the IT revolution in India. In 2022, Infosys recorded US$16.3b in revenue, US$15.6b in assets and US$3b in profits.

Perhaps more profound is the impact of Akshata’s father on India.

“[IT firms like] Wipro, TCS, and Infosys changed the image of India, from the land of snake charmers to a place that provides services,” Trip Chaudhary, an analyst at Global Equity Research, told The Independent.

“They have put India on the world map.”

Today, it’s Akshata who is setting the global agenda. She may not be the UK’s prime minister, but reports speak of her influence on Sunak.

Recently, a video circulating online showed her mother Sudha Murty saying: “I made my husband a businessman. My daughter made her husband Prime Minister of the UK.”

“The reason is the glory of the wife. See how a wife can change a husband.”

The software heiress holds 0.93% stake in Infosys, with potentially more income from her roles as venture capitalist, fashion designer, and businesswoman.

But who is Akshata Murty and how did she get to 10 Downing Street?

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Akshata Murty is an heiress to a fortune worth billions due to the shares in her father’s company. Source: Ben Stansall/Pool/AFP

Akshata Murty: A girl from Karnataka born to poor but highly talented Indians

Akshata was born to Sudha and Narayana on April 25, 1980, in Hubli, Karnataka — a state in southern India that in a few decades will rise to become the Silicon Valley of Asia.

She has a younger brother, Rohan, who was born three years later.

One day, her parents made the difficult move to leave for Mumbai to build a better future for them, leaving both her and Rohan behind to be raised by their paternal grandparents.

In a letter to Murty, as quoted in Legacy: Letters from Eminent Parents to their Daughters, her father remembers the difficulty of moving to another state when she was just a newborn.

Rohan had not been born yet then when her father got on a plane and hired a car every weekend to drive back to Karnataka to visit his Akshata.

At that time, Narayana was struggling with his career in engineering and computer science, failing in his first venture, Softronics, in the late 1970s.

However, in the US, Microsoft and Apple Inc were slowly growing to be topics of discussion and gaining popularity.

Narayana saw great potential in his country, India, and wanted to jump on that bandwagon.

He soon founded Infosys with some of his friends, with US$122 borrowed from his wife to start the venture.

Sudha is just as impressive. Her grandfather was a history teacher; her mother was also a teacher, while her father was a college professor with a PhD.

Growing up around people in education, Sudha cultivated a love for books and knowledge, which led to her being the very first female engineer at TATA Engineering and Locomotive Company (TELCO).

She landed the job after writing a complaint letter to the chairman of TELCO at that time, stating her dissatisfaction with the “men hire only” bias.

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Rishi Sunak and wife, Akshata Murty, now reside on Downing Street. Source: Toby Melville/Pool/AFP

Who is Akshata Murty and what did she learn from the streets of India?

When Murty and her brother Rohan eventually joined their parents in Mumbai, Sudha did her best to begin cultivating the children’s love for reading, learning, and debates.

It is said there wasn’t even a television in their home, so they’d make time to study, read, discuss topics, and meet friends to learn socialisation skills.

Murty started off her schooling years at the Baldwin Girls’ High School in Bangalore.

Sudha kept the children grounded by insisting they take the “regular autorickshaw” to school rather than being driven like other children that came from elite families.

Bangalore, at this time, is not a metropolis of India’s best and brightest minds in IT earning US$70,995 in a year complete with expensive apartments and high-tech public transport.

It wasn’t the place where its best-educated want to buy a one-way ticket back home to in place of better-paying jobs in the US, UK and Canada.

Akshata is arguably part of India’s brain drain — once she finished high school, she moved across the ocean to pursue her BA in Economics and French at Claremont McKenna College, California.

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Akshata Murty is known to enjoy many things including actively playing a role in the childhood education sector. Source: Ben Stansall/ Pool/AFP

While still in California, being around fashion labels and brands, Murty discovered she had a passion for pretty clothes, shoes, and art.

She attended the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles, California, where she got her diploma in Apparel Manufacturing Technology.

Some may have called it a shallow course of study but the course was no easy feat, as former student Sonal Gupta would later say.

Gupta enrolled a year after Murty and recalls the course not being an easy ride, she says.

“The focus on trade and business was strenuous. We got assignments to complete after every class that was rigorously enforced. The dropout rate for people finding it too tough a workload was high.

She worked at Deloitte and Unilever for a short while and despite having enough certifications to climb the corporate ladder, Murty proved she wasn’t satisfied and wanted to continue studying.

Moving yet again across the country to the  US, she landed on the doorstep of Stanford University to get an MBA.

While she was still studying, it is said she reflected on being raised in one of the richest families in India and how it affected her.

The topic of how a woman needs to maintain a work-life balance was mentioned, she says.

“I was sort of puzzled because I grew up in a family of very strong women … so I never thought it was just a woman’s job to have this work-life balance. It was the family’s job to have this balance.”

It was during this time that she met Sunak, then just another Fulbright scholar and son of middle-class Indian diaspora immigrants from the UK.

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Akshata Murty met her husband Rishi Sunak, who would one day become Prime Minister at Stanford. Source: Philip Pacheco/Getty Images/AFP

Sunak went to a few schools at a young age, including the Stroud School in Romsey, where he was head boy.

He later went to the exclusive private school, Winchester College — paid for by his parents’ “sacrifices to send him to US$52,947-a-year college.”

They were not billionaires like the Murthys. “My dad was an NHS family GP and my mum ran her own local chemist shop,” wrote Mr Sunak on his website.

Soon, however, Sunak would end up at an institution that would befit their elite status: the University of Oxford.

Here, he began to develop his skills and expertise in leading and taking on more challenging tasks.

In a book authored by Michael Ashcroft titled “Going for Broke: The Rise of Rishi Sunak,” he says there were high expectations of students at Oxford.

“He was one of just nine undergraduates accepted to study philosophy, politics, and economics at Lincoln College (one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford),” he says.

“In addition to attending lectures and tutorials during his first year of study, he was expected to read widely around all three subjects of his degree and produce two essays a week, the contents of which would be dissected by dons, often in front of other students.”

He graduated in 2001 and, right after, took up the role of analyst for Goldman Sachs.

Already successful and with a bright future, meeting Murty was the start of his time as a family man.

The two tied the knot in a traditional Hindu ceremony in 2009 in India.

“You know what you mean to me, and I am incredibly grateful that 18 years ago you chose to give up your high heels and take a chance on the short kid with a backpack,” said Sunak last September.

Akshata Murty’s post-MBA years sought to show her merit

After her MBA, Murty joined a Dutch cleantech enterprise, Tendris, in 2007, where she worked as marketing director.

But her love for fashion had never faded, and after two years, she left the enterprise and started her own fashion brand, Akshata Designs, which launched in 2011.

The now-defunct brand celebrated Indian culture and looked for artists from remote villages in India to design and create and bring life to their artwork through fashion.

Realising there might be questions about her business despite her family’s success, she says she wanted to prove herself and her capabilities.

“I understand that there may be some curiosity about what I’m doing given my parents’ achievements, but I hope that one day this business is able to stand on its own feet,” she says.

“I’m able to speak on its merit rather than anything else. This is my passion, and I couldn’t imagine being engaged in anything else.”

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Akshata Murty dabbled in marketing, fashion, and tech when she was younger. Source: Paul Faith/AFP

Akshata Murty and her growing number of businesses

Using her MBA as a nexus, Murty became a director of Catamaran Ventures, a venture capital firm started by her father.

The firm focused on brands from India that required management expertise, capital, and a good networking circle to expand internally.

She also became a director of New & Lingwood, a high-end menswear brand that outfits students from Eton College, a public school in England.

The fitness industry piqued her interest, whereby she took up a director’s role at Digme Fitness, a pay-as-you-go gym chain on Companies House.

The year 2017 saw Murty begin working as a member of the Board of Claremont McKenna College and the San Francisco Exploratorium.

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Akshata Murty has been credited to be the driving force behind Rishi Sunak’s success in the government. Source: Daniel Leal/AFP

She is also a shareholder in a number of other companies, including Jamie Oliver’s Pizzeria, Bloom & Wild, and Wendy’s restaurants in India.

Today, Murty continues to support her husband as UK’s Prime Minister, operate on the various boards she’s on, and raise two children with Sunak: Krishna, and Anoushka.

Both attend the exclusive and high-profile Glendower Preparatory School for girls in South Kensington, London.