From One Board to Another: Robb LeMasters, W’99, Makes an Impact at Wharton

Graphic of Robb LeMasters with SHDH and Hunstman in the BG
Robb LeMasters, W’99, is helping to expand the ESG Initiative and showing Whartonites new ways to make an impact.

Growing up in Southern California, Robb LeMasters, W’99, was initially unsure where to apply to college. Then he saw a video put together by Wharton. “They talked about all the different things you could do as a student,” LeMasters recalls. The video mentioned the Wharton Dean’s Undergraduate Advisory Board. “I was really struck that a school that’s so on top of the world is looking at themselves every day and asking the students themselves how they might suggest improving that experience.”

LeMasters, now the Chief Financial Officer of BWX Technologies, Inc., (BWXT) a Fortune 1000 manufacturing and engineering company providing nuclear solutions for global security and commercial markets, never forgot the sense of agency that came with speaking directly to Wharton’s Dean. “Looking through the lens of ‘How can I improve Wharton?’ taught and empowered me in the years thereafter to raise my hand no matter where one stood in the hierarchy. By voicing my opinion and seeking positive organizational change at Wharton, I was prepared to have a significant impact on a company or an investment bank,” says LeMasters.

At BWXT, where he initially started as an investor, before transitioning to the boardroom and ultimately the management team in 2020, LeMasters encouraged the company to expand the firm’s offerings from propulsion systems into other applications of nuclear materials, including cancer treatment and clean energy. “It’s not about blindly following some ESG-best-practices rulebook,” says LeMasters, referring to Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance. “Employees, investors, and key stakeholders assume that you live and balance business imperatives while being conscious of how to do good along the way.  At BWX Technologies, we proudly go after new products and solutions that protect people and our planet.”

A new member of the Wharton Undergraduate Executive Board, which helps advance the priorities of the Vice Dean of the Undergraduate Division, LeMasters wants to show students that ESG is a tool about more than just checking the boxes before deciding to invest in a company. “Go to a company and try to make an impact,” he says. “Think about pushing the company into different products. That can be just as important as being an ESG investor.”

As LeMasters sees it, the ESG Initiative at Wharton has a critical role to play in helping not only students, but firms and investors understand the implications of ESG and make decisions accordingly. “We can’t just assume that the investment community or businesses are going to embrace this topic,” LeMasters points out. “If you ultimately can connect good actors to more economic success — that’s a proven Wharton principle that can drive acceptance and receptivity to the positive change that can occur from this emerging field.”

For Witold Henisz, Vice Dean and Faculty Director of the ESG Initiative, LeMasters’ support has been nothing short of essential. “When an alum like Robb contributes to the ESG Initiative,” says Henisz, “it allows us to respond in real time to shifting student demand for our programs; provide the latest and best data and data-science tools to our researchers; and convene industry leaders, students, and researchers to discuss emergent ESG issues.”

In addition to joining the Undergraduate Executive Board, LeMasters has also contributed to the School’s efforts to recruit and retain underrepresented students, to ensure that Wharton remains a beacon of opportunity. “Wharton really is a catalyst to so many people’s careers,” LeMasters says. “People with grit and motivation should get their shot to change the world no matter their ability to personally fully fund their own Wharton education.”

LeMasters, who also supports The Wharton Fund, hopes to inspire generation of Whartonites to feel more comfortable stepping off the well-worn track that leads from Locust Walk to investment banking and private equity. “If you follow your passions and dreams,” says LeMasters. “You will see amazing doors open up and you just need to have the courage to keep walking through them.”