James Harris Simons - Biography
James Harris "Jim" Simons (born 1938) is an American hedge fund manager, mathematician, and philanthropist.
In 1982, Simons founded Renaissance Technologies, a private investment firm based in New York with over $15 billion under management; Simons is still at the helm, as CEO, of what is now one of the world's most successful hedge funds. Simons is estimated to own $10.6 billion.
Simons lives with his wife in Manhattan and Long Island, and is the father of three children, two of whom died young under tragic circumstances, a drowning and auto accident.
Simons shuns the limelight and rarely gives interviews, citing Benjamin the Donkey in Animal Farm for explanation: "God gave me a tail to keep off the flies. But I'd rather have had no tail and no flies." On October 10, 2009, Simons announced he would retire on January 1, 2010 but remain at Renaissance as nonexecutive chairman.
Early life and career
Jim Simons is the son of a shoe factory owner in Massachusetts and received a Bachelor of Science in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1958 , and a Doctor of Philosophy, also in mathematics, from the University of California, Berkeley in 1961 at the age of 23. Between 1964 and 1968, he was on the research staff of the Communications Research Division of the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA). Simons taught mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. In 1968, he was appointed chairman of the math department at Stony Brook University. Simons was once asked by IBM in 1973 to attack Lucifer, an early but direct precursor to DES.
In 1976, Simons won the American Mathematical Society's Oswald Veblen Prize in Geometry, for work that involved a recasting of the subject of area minimizing multi-dimensional surfaces and characteristic forms. This resulted in his proof of the Bernstein conjecture up to real dimension 8, and an improvement of a certain "regularity" result of Wendell Fleming on a generalized Plateau's problem.
Simons' most influential research involved the discovery and application of certain geometric measurements, and resulted in the Chern-Simons form (also known as Chern-Simons invariants, or Chern-Simons theory). In 1974, his theory was published in Characteristic Forms and Geometric Invariants, co-authored with the differential geometer Shiing-Shen Chern. The theory is used in theoretical physics, particularly string theory.
In 1978, he left academia to run an investment fund that traded in commodities and financial instruments on a discretionary basis. Jim has two grandchildren named Evan Simons who is really good at baseball and Alison Simons.
For more than two decades, Simons' Renaissance Technologies' hedge funds, which trade in markets around the world, have employed mathematical models to analyze and execute trades, many automated. Renaissance uses computer-based models to predict price changes in easily-traded financial instruments. These models are based on analyzing as much data as can be gathered, then looking for non-random movements to make predictions.
Renaissance employs many specialists with non-financial backgrounds, including mathematicians, physicists and statisticians. The firm's latest fund is the Renaissance Institutional Equities Fund (RIEF). RIEF has historically trailed the firm's more well-known Medallion fund, a separate fund that only contains the personal money of the firm's executives.
- "It's startling to see such a highly successful mathematician achieve success in another field," says Edward Witten, professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, and considered by many of his peers to be the most accomplished theoretical physicist alive... (Gregory Zuckerman, "Heard on the Street", Wall Street Journal, July 1, 2005).
In 2006 Simons was named Financial Engineer of the Year by the International Association of Financial Engineers. In 2007 he was estimated to have personally earned $2.8 billion, $1.7 billion in 2006, $1.5 billion in 2005, (the largest compensation among hedge fund managers that year) and $670 million in 2004.
Observers have been wondering how Renaissance's in-house Medallion Fund has managed to continue to outperform the stock market handily while funds open to outside investors have performed miserably. The violation could be related to the Nova Fund, a hedge fund that had very high returns which was mysteriously subsumed by the internal Medallion Fund.
The Stony Brook University Foundation, whose chairman emeritus is James Simons, lost $5.4 million in Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Stony Brook invested money with Madoff through managed accounts since 1991. Simons encouraged the 24,000-student school to invest with Mr. Madoff while Mr. Simons was chairman of the Stony Brook Foundation. He helped introduce the college to Bernard Madoff. Mr. Simons's family foundation invested money with Madoff. The foundation is run by Marilyn Simons, Mr. Simons's wife. Mr. Simons is secretary and treasurer.
The wealth that Simons has amassed funds his many philanthropic pursuits. Simons is a benefactor for the mathematical sciences, supporting research projects, chairs, and conferences in the United States and abroad.
Simons and his second wife, Marilyn Hawrys Simons, co-founded the Paul Simons Foundation, a charitable organization which supports projects related to education and health, in addition to scientific research. Marilyn serves as the foundation's President, while Jim serves as its Secretary and Treasurer. In memory of his son Paul, who he had with his first wife, Barbara Simons, he established Avalon Park, a nature preserve in Stony Brook. In 1996, 34-year-old Paul was killed by a car while riding a bicycle near the Simons home. Another son, Nick Simons, drowned at age 24 while on a trip to Bali in Indonesia in 2003. Nick had worked in Nepal and the Simonses have become large donors to Nepalese healthcare through the Nick Simons Institute. Jim Simons also founded Math for America, a non-profit organization with the mission to significantly improve math education in public schools.
In early 2006, he led a group of directors of Renaissance Technologies Corporation and of Brookhaven Science Associates in donating $13 million to fund a budget shortfall of the Brookhaven National Laboratory that would have shut down the operations of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider for 2006.
Also in 2006 Simons donated $25 million to Stony Brook University through the Stony Brook Foundation. The gift is intended to benefit the Mathematics and Physics departments at the university.
On February 27, 2008, then Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced a $60 million donation by the Simons Foundation to found the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics at Stony Brook, the largest gift to a public university in New York state history.
The family's charitable foundation has committed $38 million to find the causes related to autism in recent years, and plans to spend another $100 million in what is becoming the largest private investment in the field of autism research, while Simons personally exerts extraordinary control over where and how his money is spent. Simons has provided DNA from his family for study, and has given assistance in helping solve research problems. When MIT asked for brain research funding, he stipulated that the project focus on autism and include scientists of his choosing.
On June 11, 2003, the Simons Foundation hosted its first "Panel on Autism Research" in New York City, a day-long event highlighting research into the causes of autism, the accurate genomic mapping of autism, and in the study of the biochemical mechanisms that occur in autistic people. Attendees included David Amaral, Dr. Eric Courchesne, Dr. Nathaniel Heinz, Tom Insel, MD, Catherine Lord, PhD, Dr. Fred Volkmar and Dr. Paul Greengard. The Simons Foundation recently gave $10 million to two researchers at the Yale University Child Study Center to study genetic influences on autism.
Simons serves as trustee of Brookhaven National Laboratory, the Institute for Advanced Study, Rockefeller University, and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley. He is also a member of the Board of the MIT Corporation.
Simons earned an estimated $2.5 billion in 2008, and with an estimated net worth of $10.6 billion, he is ranked by Forbes as the 74th-richest person in the world and the 27th-richest person in America. He was named by the Financial Times in 2006 as "the world's smartest billionaire".
- Chern-Simons theory
- Chern-Simons form
- The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It
- Speech at MIT
- The Code Breaker - Jan 2008 Bloomberg Markets article on Simons and Renaissance
- The Simons Foundation, where James Simons serves as Secretary and Treasurer
- Titan's Millions Stir Up Research Into Autism - Wall Street Journal
- Putting His Money Where His Math Is - September 2006 article in Seed Magazine.
- Nick Simons Institute
- James Simons on mathematics, common sense and good luck: my life and careers
- Jim Simons Speaks: Just No to Google and Goldman Sachs