Vivek Ramaswamy: The making of a conservative culture warrior

Riley Moore had never met the man seated next to him. The state treasurer of West Virginia, Moore had come to a conservative retreat in the state’s storied Greenbrier resort in May 2021 to talk about a letter he and 14 other Republican state treasurers had just written to the Biden administration’s climate envoy, John Kerry. In it, the officials complained about the administration reportedly pressuring financial institutions not to lend to or invest in the coal, oil and natural gas industry—the very backbone of their state economies.

Over lunch, Moore talked up his letter to the stranger seated next to him, who introduced himself as Vivek Ramaswamy, a biotech executive and author of the forthcoming book “Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam.” The two hit it off, with Moore inviting Ramaswamy to join a group of Republicans who were fighting back against the banks and asset management firms that were, in their minds, doing untold damage to the fossil fuel industry. “You should really come and talk to us,” Moore told him.

Three months later, “Woke, Inc.” was released, sparking a backlash against the principles of stakeholder capitalism and corporate ESG—or environmental, social and governance principles. In the book, Ramaswamy argued that corporations are imposing a “woke” ESG agenda on America, impacting every controversial topic from race to gender to climate. This agenda is not “just ruining companies,” he wrote. “It’s polarizing our politics. It’s dividing our country to a breaking point.”

“Woke, Inc.” made Ramaswamy an overnight celebrity in right-wing circles. He’s now a regular guest on Fox News, with appearances on the top-rated “Tucker Carlson Tonight” show, and a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal’s opinion page. He was also slated to be one of the few people of color (he is a first-generation Indian American) speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where other speakers include Donald Trump and Hungary’s authoritarian president, Viktor Orbán.

As Ramaswamy mingled with politicians and gave talks before Republican state lawmakers over the past year, he realized that “Woke, Inc.” also presented him with a new business opportunity. So in May, he launched Strive Asset Management, a financial firm that he says will disregard politics in its investment decisions, focusing solely on what he calls “excellence.” With an initial capital raise of $20 million from billionaire investors Peter Thiel and Bill Ackman, as well as Ohio Republican Senate candidate and venture capitalist J.D. Vance (among others), Ramaswamy headquartered Strive in his home state of Ohio and staffed it with former Republican operatives, as well as longtime friends and associates. Its first product—an energy exchange-traded fund—will formally launch this month.

For red-state financial officers like Moore, who want to move their capital away from the world’s largest investment firm, BlackRock, Strive may soon offer a more right-leaning alternative. “The state treasurers and legislators around the country are looking for options,” said Moore “Vivek saw an opportunity,” said Moore, noting that his firm’s emergence coincides with BlackRock falling deeply out of favor with conservatives. “If you’re going to divest [from a firm like BlackRock], certainly there’s got to be somewhere to land.”

You can read my entire profile of 36-year-old’s Vivek Ramaswamy’s transformation from a biotech entrepreneur with an Ivy League education to right wing culture warrior at The Information.

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