After a relatively privileged upbringing, Ilya Sherbovich completed a degree in business management at Moscow’s Pleshka university between 1991 and 1996. During the course of his studies, he gained experience in the financial world with posts at the following institutions: the International Financial Corporation, which invested money from the World Bank into the developing world; the Federal Commission for the Securities Market, where Sherbovich joined a consulting team monitoring the Russian stock market; and at the United Financial Group [“UFG”], where as an experienced financier he was made a head of department in 1995.
In the late 1990s, UFG suffered from the economic crisis in Russia and from an ongoing dispute with Gazprom. Sherbovich and one of UFG’s owners, Boris Fedorov – the former Russian Vice President and Finance Minister – were accused of buying up shares in Gazprom for foreign investors, although subsequent investigations found neither individual guilty of violating the law. Sherbovich’s strong leadership throughout this period, including overseeing the restructuring of the group following the economic meltdown, did not go unnoticed: he was appointed President of UFG in 1998, at just 28 years old.
By the early 2000s, UFG was successfully advising hundreds of corporate clients on a variety of transactions, and it attracted the attention of the German giant Deutsche Bank, which was considering entering the Russian investment market. Between 2003 and 2006, the bank acquired 100% of UFG, whose three largest shareholders were its founders, Boris Fedorov and Charles Ryan, alongside Sherbovich. Sherbovich led the negotiations of the acquisition, and was instrumental in establishing Deutsche Bank in the Russian investment market: in 2005, he was named the “Best Investment Banker of the Year” by the National Association of Stock Market Participants, and he served as President of Deutsche UFG and Head of Global Banking for Deutsche Bank in Russia between 2006 and 2007.
With the proceeds of UFG’ takeover and about 20 of his colleagues from the firm, Sherbovich founded his own investment company in 2007, naming it United Capital Partners [“UCP”]. UCP specialised in long-term investments of undervalued businesses, whose value often soared following UCP’s interest: such was the renown of Sherbovich’s investment nous. One of UCP’s most successful investments was the purchase of shares in the RTS Stock exchange in 2008, which, after a merger with MICEX in 2011, UCP managed to sell with a tenfold premium. Recently, in March 2017, it sold its stake in Transneft again at a significant premium, having held it since 2011.
The disruptive nature of UCP’s investments have resulted in a number of publicised disputes and legal proceedings, notably regarding its investments in VKontakte and Transneft shares. However, this has not slowed down UCP’s growth: as at 2013, it had USD 3.5 billion worth of assets across a variety of sectors, and is one of the largest private investment groups in Russia. Sherbovich remains UCP’s President and majority shareholder, with a reported 77.7% stake. In 2017, he featured on Forbes Magazine’s list of 200 richest businessmen in Russia, with an estimated net worth of USD 950 million.
Sherbovich is also the owner, since 2006, of a luxury tourist operator named “Ponoi River”, which organises fishing expeditions in the Murmansk region. Its customers have included members of the upper echelons of the US and Russian political elite, such as Jimmy Carter and Dmitry Medvedev. Sherbovich is an advocate for the protection of salmon populations in Russia.