Features

Jonathan Reich – Grid Market Research

From private equity to Putin’s enemies

Ever loquacious and entertaining, Jonathan Reich can make for good company at cocktail parties. Yet, he jokes—perhaps half-seriously—that other attorneys edge away in fear for their safety after learning about his practice. If so, they’re probably overreacting but there’s no denying that Reich’s experiences are not shared widely—if at all—among his legal brethren in high finance.

In recent years, his role has evolved from general counsel for a New York-based international financial services company to quarterback of legal defense for its principal, Sergey Leontiev.

Jonathan Reich | General Counsel | Grid Market Research

Jonathan Reich | General Counsel | Grid Market Research

A former Russian banker, Leontiev fled Moscow in 2015 after he and his colleagues ran afoul of Vladimir Putin. They were early supporters of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and partnered with his organization to issue a branded credit card to support his anti-corruption foundation. The government killed the project and targeted Leontiev’s bank, seizing and dividing its assets among state-owned banks and Kremlin cronies.

Leontiev and his family were granted political asylum in the U.S. and resettled in New York, where Grid Market Research was founded as the research and analytics branch of their family office and investment firm. However, the firm’s plan to launch a hedge fund and open up to outside investors was backburnered once Putin initiated a global attack on Leontiev and his former colleagues. Civil and criminal allegations from Moscow popped up in jurisdictions worldwide.

Ready for a fight

That thrust Reich into an international maelstrom that the 43-year-old Columbia Law School graduate couldn’t have anticipated earlier in his career. But he seems more animated than daunted about taking on a despotic regime on the other side of the world.

“I had the chance to say, ‘I’m sorry but fighting the Kremlin wasn’t something that I signed up for,’ and I certainly considered that option,” Reich recalls. “But I ultimately saw this as an opportunity to grow as a professional and hopefully make a positive impact.”

Jonathan Reich | General Counsel | Grid Market Research

While the Kremlin has accused the 58-year-old Leontiev and his associates of a litany of financial crimes related to his former bank and unlawfully imprisoned several of his colleagues, Reich’s work with outside legal counsel across the globe has led legitimate courts to reject these allegations. The judge who granted Leontiev asylum cited the similarities between his case and that of Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison in 2009 after uncovering massive tax fraud by Russian officials. Several of the Russian officials and attorneys leading the attacks on Leontiev have been sanctioned by the U.S. under an act named in Magnitsky’s memory.

“This isn’t a situation where we’re arguing that Russia is generally bad and corrupt,” Reich tells Vanguard. “This is a case where the facts unequivocally show that Leontiev, who in any other context would be celebrated as a market leader and forward thinker, is treated by the Kremlin as a threat for having the very characteristics that make a successful entrepreneur.”

Justice prevailing

Reich deployed those arguments recently to earn a positive decision from INTERPOL, which concluded that attacks on Leontiev were politically motivated and deleted Russia’s attempts to forward its allegations internationally.

Reich isn’t surprised that Leontiev couldn’t sit quietly and run his business in Moscow under Putin; the banker has a reflexive tendency to challenge the status quo and stands firm in his convictions. From Leontiev, Reich says he’s learned to remain focused even when under pressure.

“Digesting information and making intelligent legal or business decisions quickly under the gun is invaluable,” Reich says. “But it’s a truly remarkable skill to remain creative and open-minded while facing existential threats to your life and livelihood.”

Jonathan Reich | General Counsel | Grid Market Research

Well-seasoned in investment banking and private equity, Reich has overseen Grid’s legal concerns since 2017 and has helped guide the family office’s investment performance. While his daily work can be unpredictable—with recent issues ranging from the mini-banking crisis to new sanctions on Russia—Reich thrives on the intellectual stimulation and fast pace.

“One thing about my role,” he observes wryly, “is that it’s never boring.”

He appreciates the daily opportunities that come from working with Grid’s investment professionals while collaborating with some of the world’s premier attorneys. Outside the office, Reich and his colleagues share a passion for skiing, hashing out ideas while riding chairlifts.

More recently, he’s been approached by other high-net-worth clients who face similar threats from authoritarian regimes and has established a separate law office, Reich Law, to advise them. While initially skeptical about taking on additional clients, Reich has forged ahead with the blessing of Grid colleagues and built a network of lawyers experienced at combatting abuses by authoritarian regimes.

“There are a lot of great lawyers and legal service providers out there, but relatively few of them have the specific expertise required to guide clients through these types of challenges,” he says. “I want to connect clients with those that do.”

Got to press on

While Leontiev’s a free man, albeit one who may continue to look over his shoulder, he looks forward to when he can focus entirely on investing and travel without undue risk. Reich too would like to focus on Grid’s growth and sees an opportunity for the firm to round the corner now that Leontiev has been vindicated.

Grid’s investment team remains focused on public equity markets and other strategies that the family office has incorporated into investment models. Their goal is to get back to launching a fund and rewarding investors rather than locking horns with Putin and his ilk.

Jonathan Reich | General Counsel | Grid Market Research

Post-pandemic, the investment landscape is rocky, but Reich believes Grid can ride it out. He speaks with 16 years-plus experience in corporate transactions and high-finance, having cut his teeth during the 2008 crisis. Prior to Grid, Reich was general counsel and compliance officer of Loeb Partners Corp., another family-owned firm.

And way before that? According to Reich, even as a young man, he may have had a premonition of where Russia was heading.

While cleaning his grandparents’ house pre-pandemic, Reich found a term paper he had written in college. Parallels abound, the young Reich wrote, between the up-and-coming Putin and the 18th-century tsar who inspired this expansionist ideology: Peter the Great.

“I got a B-plus but maybe today the professor would change it to an A,” chuckles Reich, now a married father of three. “Serendipity being what it is, it seems that the foundation for this part of my professional life was laid long ago.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Summer I 2023 Edition here.

Published on: May 18, 2023

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