How Bono’s investment partner got busted in the college admissions scandal
Last January, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Bono sat on a frigid outdoor television set for a friendly chat with Andrew Ross Sorkin, the New York Times columnist and co-creator of the hit show Billions. As it happens, the show—a fictionalized account of a hedge-fund billionaire and the federal prosecutor who sets out to bring him down—provided a bit of ironic foreshadowing at the annual gathering of the world’s wealthiest do-gooders. Joining Bono onstage that morning was William McGlashan Jr., a managing partner at TPG Growth, who had helped the U2 front man launch the Rise Fund, a $2 billion portfolio of investments committed to creating “social and environmental impact” that leads to “meaningful, measurable, and positive change.”
In a Times column, Sorkin once described McGlashan as resembling “a Buddhist monk” more than “a cigar-chomping banker in pinstripes.” Now, improbably bundled against the cold in both a vest and a parka, McGlashan was swathed in a sea of gray down. Bono, sporting his signature black leather jacket and purple spectacles, recounted how he and McGlashan came up with their vision for Rise, which has invested in everything from supporting small dairy farms in India to expanding financial access to the poor in Nigeria.
“We had this wild and crazy idea that capitalism—this tool that had taken more people out of extreme poverty than any other ‘ism’—could perhaps be deployed to support the work I was doing trying to get people out of extreme poverty,” Bono Bill McGlashan (center) left Bono’s Rise Fund after he was charged with paying fixer William Singer (right) to get his son into U.S.C. explained. “But he”—gesturing to McGlashan—“also accepted that it’s a wild beast and, if not tamed, can and has chewed up a lot of lives.”
Sorkin asked the pair how often they discussed the investments that Rise has made since its founding in 2016. “All the time,” McGlashan gushed. Later at the conference, on another panel with Bono, he summed up Rise’s save-the-world ethos. “Businesses go extinct if they don’t get on the side of authentic good,” McGlashan declared. “We need to hold ourselves humbly accountable” and deliver on the promise of impact investing: that business can “solve these otherwise intractable problems that we are facing.”
What McGlashan did not share with his fellow elites at Davos, humbly or otherwise, was something he had known for months: that federal authorities were closing in on a college admissions fixer he had allegedly conspired with to get his older son into the University of Southern California. As part of the scandal known as Operation Varsity Blues, prosecutors say, McGlashan paid the fixer $50,000 to falsify his son’s ACT scores. As additional insurance, he allegedly discussed paying a bribe of $250,000 to gain his son admission through a “side door” at U.S.C. as a promising athlete, enabling him to do an end run around the entire application process.
On March 12, six weeks after Davos, McGlashan was arrested at his home in Marin County, California, and charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud. After TPG placed him on leave, he either resigned or was fired, depending on which version of events you choose to believe. But unlike some of the other high-profile defendants in the scandal, including the actor Felicity Huffman, McGlashan decided to fight the criminal charges. He essentially claims he did nothing wrong. While he admits to making a $50,000 “payment” to the fixer, he says “there is no allegation” that the extra time his son was provided to take the ACT was “obtained fraudulently or was unwarranted.” What’s more, he asserts, he never paid $250,000 to get his son into U.S.C. through the “side door”—and his son, sad to say, has now “withdrawn” his college applications. “The prosecutor’s case against Mr. McGlashan is deeply flawed and ignores important exculpatory facts,” his attorney said. “We look forward to presenting his side of the story.”
McGlashan’s colleagues at TPG were stunned. Given his prominence as one of the world’s leading advocates of social-impact investing— the ethos of “doing well by doing good”—his fall from grace has the potential to undercut projects that help millions worldwide. “What he did was inexcusable and just reprehensible,” says Jon Winkelried, the co-C.E.O. of TPG. “It makes it all the more distasteful because of the things he proclaimed he stood for. It makes people second guess what our motivations were. Because the personal and the professional, given how vocal he was, kind of bleed together.”
Anand Giridharadas, a visiting scholar at New York University and author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, seconds that concern. “We have to understand McGlashan being arrested as a moment of reckoning for the headmaster of a big experiment in social change,” he says. “When someone like that is caught showing how desperately they cling to the status quo, and how clinging to the status quo is so overpowering that they’re willing to break federal law, it doesn’t just implicate one man. It raises a question about the sincerity of a lot of people in that field. Because the whole premise of impact investing is that the rich—while advancing social justice—should actually make a buck from it.”
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