Rishi Sunak: rapid rise of UK's new finance minister

By: AFP      Published: 09:17 PM, 13 Feb, 2020
Rishi Sunak: rapid rise of UK's new finance minister

Rishi Sunak, a 39-year-old high-flying business investor who only entered politics five years ago, has enjoyed a rapid rise to become Britain's new finance minister.

Sunak entered parliament in 2015 and got his foot on the most junior rung of government in January 2018 -- and was still there just over six months ago. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, after taking office in July last year, promoted Sunak to chief secretary to the Treasury, number two in the finance ministry.

He was therefore the obvious person to turn to after Sajid Javid sensationally walked out as finance minister during Johnson's government reshuffle on Thursday in a row over advisors. Sunak is privately wealthy through his business career and is probably better-known in India than in Britain through his wife Akshata.

She is the daughter of Indian business magnate Narayana Murthy, the billionaire co-founder of Infosys, India's second-largest IT outsourcing firm. Sunak is Britain's first Hindu chancellor of the exchequer, and swore his oath of allegiance in parliament on the Bhagavad Gita.

He is also the first person born in the 1980s to hold one of the so-called four great offices of state: prime minister, finance minister, foreign secretary and interior minister. He misses out on being the youngest chancellor of the past century by just a single year, as George Osborne was 38 when he took charge of the Treasury in 2010.

Election TV frontman

Sunak is the member of parliament for Richmond in Yorkshire, northern England -- a safe Conservative seat he took over in 2015 from former party leader and foreign secretary William Hague, who described Sunak as an "exceptional individual".

Theresa May gave him his first job in government in January 2018, making him a parliamentary under-secretary of state with responsibility for local government, parks and troubled families. When Johnson replaced May in July last year, he promoted Sunak to be Javid's number two. He went on to stand in for Johnson during the main multi-party television debates in the December 2019 general election.

A Brexit supporter, Sunak produced a report in 2016 on the merits of introducing free ports after leaving the European Union -- a concept that Johnson cherry-picked for his own leadership campaign and Sunak launched on Monday.

Southampton to Stanford

Sunak's grandparents were from Punjab in northern India and emigrated to Britain from eastern Africa in the 1960s. They arrived with "very little", Sunak told MPs in his maiden speech. The eldest of three children, Sunak's father was a family doctor in Southampton on the southern English coast, and his mother ran a local pharmacy.

Born on May 12, 1980 in Southampton, he studied at Winchester College, one of Britain's leading private boarding schools, before graduating with a first class honours degree from the University of Oxford in philosophy, politics and economics.

Sunak then gained a business administration master's degree from Stanford University in California on a Fulbright scholarship. He met his wife Akshata at Stanford and they lived in California before returning to Britain.

The couple married in Bangalore in 2009. Guests included Wipro chairman Azim Premji and India's former Test cricket captain Anil Kumble. The Sunaks have two young daughters, Krishna and Anoushka. Sunak worked internationally in business and finance and co-founded an investment firm.

He was an analyst for investment bank Goldman Sachs before going on to work in hedge and investment fund management.

Sunak lists his spare time interests as keeping fit, cricket, football and movies.

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