At 79 years old, Jim Simons has a few bad habits. One of them is continuous smoking. Another is keeping more than $7.5bn in an offshore fund in Bermuda . Following revelations of the latter, Simons has been keen to point out that the $7.5bn was simply parked and not used for the purposes of tax avoidance. Now, a new long profile in the New Yorker does a lot to rehabilitate his public image.
Simons is the founder of Renaissance Technologies, the incredibly successful quantitative hedge fund. He’s thought to be worth $18.5bn. Despite being retired he earned another $1.6bn last year (higher than anyone else in hedge funds). This isn’t coincidental, Simons set out to make money: as a student at Berkeley he tried FX and commodity trading before settling on quant trading. He has a $48m apartment overlooking Central Park, a $65m private jet and a 222 foot yacht. Yet, despite it all, the New Yorker suggests Simons is a nice guy who’s worst fault is to sometimes leave sentences hanging (“when you are as rich as Simons, people always wait for you to finish what you are saying.”)
The most conspicuous symptom of niceness is Simons’ foundation, run by Simons and his wife Marilyn. This is shoveling $450bn a year into charitable causes. The shiniest one is “Flatiron,” a nonprofit enterprise which aims to apply Renaissance’s analytical strategies to projects dedicated to expanding knowledge and helping humanity. Simons has hired astrophysicists, biologists, neuroscientists and mathematicians to work on projects that include developing medical treatments linked to DNA and understanding how the brain controls behaviour.
It’s not just the money though. Simons’, who has had his own share of personal tragedies in the death of two sons, comes across as the sort of archetypal “good manager” in short supply in finance. “I like to recruit,” he tells the New Yorker. “My management style has always been to find outstanding people and let them run with the ball.” People like working for him. He’s kind of modest (in a way that you can maybe afford to be when you’re worth $18.5bn): “I was a good mathematician,” he says, “I wasn’t the greatest in the world, but I was pretty good.” And he’s fun: Renaissance bonding exercises have involved seeing who could ride a bike the slowest without falling off.
Simons is also what Marilyn describes as an, “information processor.” When he’s working on a mathematical problem his eyes glaze over and he starts grinding his jaw. As a child, he caused concern because he could be intensely withdrawn when, “thinking.” 70 years on, the New Yorker’s piece reads like an encomium. But Simons deserves some praise. Not every exceptional quant who’s exceptionally rich would remain so pleasantly human.
Separately, Credit Suisse announced its MDs last week. Financial News and Bloomberg note that rather a lot of them seem to be in global markets instead of the investment bank. In London, global markets MDs outweigh investment banking and capital markets (IBCM) MDs in the ratio of 3:1. The horror. Except, that global markets employees at Credit Suisse also outweigh IBCM staff in the ratio of 4:1. Credit Suisse’s investment bankers are not hard done by. Its women, however, are: there are more men called Mark or Andre on Credit Suisse’s MD list than women called anything at all.
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