Swim star’s business feats reach uncharted waters
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Ivan Nechunaev tended to be the best during his time at Grand Canyon University, and now he’s first in another way – but his heart is with people who don’t have many victories in life.
The former NCAA Division II swimming champion recently became the first GCU graduate ever to be accepted into The Wharton School, the prestigious business school of the University of Pennsylvania.
That’s big news. But even more significant is what Nechunaev expects of himself and what he plans to do with this opportunity. His bottom line is to have a positive social impact in places, such as Africa, that need help.
“It means a higher responsibility that I have and will have for my actions down the road, and hopefully through those actions I can help improve our world on a global scale,” he wrote in an interview conducted via email.
“This also means that through the way I act, study and behave I am representing not just myself, but the whole GCU and the future applicants from GCU that are to come.”
After getting his bachelor’s degree in Finance and Economics from GCU in 2012 and then his master’s in Accounting in 2014, Nechunaev was hired by J.P. Morgan in London. How tough is that hiring gauntlet? He had 10 interviews and was given a business case to solve.
He worked there for a year and a half on the company’s ultra-high net-worth team but didn’t feel enriched by dealing with some of the world’s wealthiest people. So he leaped to LeapFrog Investments, which helps businesses in Africa and Asia, and found his niche.
“The company’s goal,” he said, “is not only to make profits for the investors but also to help local African and Asian communities rise toward middle class through getting access to the most basic financial tools (life insurance, bank savings) for the first time in their lives.
“It may seem strange in the developed world, but most of the people in the poorest regions of the world have never been able to afford life insurance, or store money safely, or send money to their relatives living in another region. Without access to those very basic services, local communities are at risk to remain in poverty for too long.”
He called it “Capitalism 2.0” and said he believes it ultimately will replace business based on greed. Ironically, LeapFrog’s motto is “Profit with Purpose.”
“This obviously resonates well with GCU’s own ‘Find your Purpose,’ and I have thought about it many times,” he said. “I am good at finance, and applying my financial skills toward social good without any sacrifice of profit appears to be the perfect fit.”
65 degrees below zero
Nechunaev also had his share of hardships while growing up in Tomsk, Russia, deep in the heart of Siberia and far closer to Mongolia than Moscow. There, he sometimes watched the thermometer plunge to minus-65 degrees Fahrenheit, and his upbringing was in no way similar to the typical Ivy League background.
But he has found Wharton to be nothing like that stereotype and instead is strong in its social-impact emphasis and “very much down-to-earth, friendly, inclusive and diverse, which reminded me of the atmosphere at GCU and which was highly important to me, given that I do not come from a privileged background.”
Equally important to him is thanking people for helping him get to where he is.
“Getting into Wharton once again reminded me of all the sacrifices my parents have made and all the genuine support I have received throughout the years from my family, friends, coaches, professors, mentors and colleagues,” he said.
Nechunaev was an NCAA Elite 90 Award winner, a six-time All-American at the 2013 NCAA Division II Championships and was on the winning 400-meter medley relay that still holds the school record.
He called the team “one large family with Steve Schaffer as our father. I cannot express enough how much gratitude I have for Coach Schaffer for bringing me to GCU and being a great coach, mentor and friend.
“He managed to build a highly competitive team in a very short period of time, but what is more important is the team atmosphere. Lifelong friendships were made, we had lots of fun and worked hard together – all as one.”
Thanks to CCOB
He similarly is grateful to the Colangelo College of Business faculty, particularly Dr. Ernie Scarbrough (“His experience and personal and professional stature remind me of those of a Japanese sensei master”) and Tim Kelley (“He is a fantastic resource for all aspiring entrepreneurs and those interested in international development”).
Kelley’s response: “He was one of my best students ever.”
“I always liked to talk to the professors, and not necessarily about business issues but about life in general,” Nechunaev said. “In fact, I believe that through having such conversations with GCU professors I was able to grow not only personally but also professionally.”
He’d like to someday teach an investment class at GCU, but for now he’s watching from afar and liking what he sees.
“When I started at GCU in 2010, the campus had about a thousand students and had the vibe of a family-owned restaurant,” he said. “Now it might be very different, but it seems that the school was able to carry its spirit through these years.
“It is fascinating how much the school has grown under the leadership of Brian Mueller, and I am sure the best is yet to come. I am always following the good GCU does.”
You can be sure people at GCU will be following the good he does as well. His competitive swimming days are over, but now he’s winning a far more important race.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.