top of page

30 Under 30: How a billionaire's dead lizard inspired an ESG prodigy

Burton Flynn

November 2019


Swimming out of poverty

Our senior investment professional Ivan Nechunaev was recently named 30 Under 30 in Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing by The SRI Conference, the largest and longest-running ESG and sustainable investing conference in North America. 


Born and raised in a small town in Siberia in impoverished circumstances during the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ivan secured a full-ride athletic scholarship to study in the U.S. After graduation, he joined J.P. Morgan’s private bank in London focused on ultra-high net worth clients in emerging markets.


“Working with billionaires and executing on their wishes to have yachts, private jets, or some other, even more sophisticated things was often amusing at best,” Ivan recounts. “For example, there was a client who had a pet lizard. The client really loved the little fellow. When the lizard died, the billionaire was so sad that he ordered one of the most famous contemporary painters to draw a painting of the deceased lizard. He paid $50 million for that. Childhood memories of being so close to poverty and hunger came up in my mind like a ghost when I tried to comprehend such extravagance. I thought to myself, for $50 million one can buy two good mid-market insurance companies in Africa and run a profitable business while also insuring millions of people who never had life insurance before.” 


Ultimately, this experience led Ivan to a deep introspection about his path in life and career. He left the billionaires’ business and joined LeapFrog Investments, a pioneer private equity impact investing firm, doing exactly what he felt would be the right thing to do: investing in insurance and financial services companies in Sub-Saharan Africa to give local families living on less than $10/day something they never had – financial safety nets and wellbeing tools – while also generating strong financial returns for investors.


Ivan Nechunaev studied in the US on a full-ride swimming scholarship

Finding a hidden gem

To learn about how to bring impact into public equities – which has formed as Ivan’s biggest career interest – and to advance his leadership skills, Ivan enrolled in the MBA program at the Wharton School. While at Wharton, he was on the investment team at Wharton Impact Investing Partners and helped create teaching materials for the Impact Investing course. He also worked with a shareholder activist fund JANA Partners where he helped build an impact investing platform, and PIMCO where he analyzed ESG implementation in select emerging markets across three continents.


We initially discovered Ivan after searching the Wharton resume book and finding that out of 800 students, he was one of only three with extensive responsible investing experience (three of only five search results for “ESG” were found on his CV). A strong believer that profit and purpose can be achieved simultaneously, public markets hold the keys to unlock much greater impact than private markets, and emerging markets are where the need for capital is the greatest, Ivan was excited to join our team.


Representing Wharton at the 2019 World Government Summit to create economic solutions for failed states and their communities

Hitting the ground running

During his first eight months on the job, Ivan has already lived full-time in seven developing countries for a month in each, co-developed a sophisticated proprietary ESG questionnaire, and met with CEOs and CFOs of 400 companies to learn in person about their strategy, growth prospects, ESG policy, climate change preparedness, human capital risks, and minority investor sentiment.


We congratulate Ivan on his 30 Under 30 award, and look forward to our future accomplishments together.


Visiting a textile manufacturer's solar power plant during a month in Pakistan

bottom of page