Jim Simons, For the Love of Knowledge and Life

There are not many men in the business world who hold the characteristics James Simons does. The American mathematician is a successful hedge fund founder and manager, having created Renaissance Technologies, one of the most important hedge fund organizations in the world.

Image courtesy of Graham Leuschke at Flickr.com

With a net worth close to the $14 billion dollars, Jim Simons is known for being skilled in solving codes and a specialist in pattern reading and interpretation. He uses his knowledge in mathematics to analyze alternative investments in his company, providing more precise predictions compared to other commonly used methods. He is one of a kind in the mathematical community because of his achievements in a subject different to mathematics.

In this article, Patrick Dwyer will talk about James Simons’ life and most significant achievements through his career as a mathematician, hedge fund founder, and devoted philanthropist.

Childhood and early life

Born in 1938 as James H. Simons to a Jewish family in the small city of Newton, Massachusetts, Jim grew up in a working-class family who was dedicated to producing shoes.

Since childhood, Simons showed a big interest in studying subjects such as nature and mathematics. Despite his geniality, he was kind of aloof and often forgetful. These characteristics had an impact on one of his vacation jobs when at the age of 14 he started to work in the warehouse of a local store. He was distracted enough to forget where things were in the stockroom. Thanks to this, his supervisor instead of promoting him, asked him to become the store’s floor sweeper. When he explained to his supervisor that he wanted to attend to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he couldn’t help it and laughed at him.

Image courtesy of Chris de Kok at Flickr.com

After applying to MIT, Simons was admitted in 1955 and started studying mathematics. He graduated three years later with a bachelor’s degree. During the time he spent at MIT Simons confirmed that he was on the right path and he was destined to become a mathematician.

After going to MIT; he pursued a Ph.D. also in mathematics, this time at Berkeley. During the time he attended his doctorate, he worked for the American mathematician Bertram Kostant, giving him an innovative and more abstract proof of Berger’s segmentation of the holonomy groups theory. In 1961, being only 23 years old, Simons completed his doctorate.

Career and Achievements

Once Simons received the Ph.D. in mathematics, he decided to embrace the academic career. In 1964 he started working in Princeton and became a staff member of the Communications Research Division at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), working breaking codes. Simons recalls having extremely loved this post since thinking about algorithms to solve particular types of code problems was natural to him.

While working at IDA, Simons gained the knowledge and skills he needed to use mathematical patterns to understand the financial data that would, later on, help him build his business. Also, during his time at Princeton, Jim also became a mathematics professor at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. By the year 1968, he became chairman of the math office at Stony Brook University where he met the mathematician Shiing-Shen Chern and worked hand in hand with him to create the “Chern-Simons invariants”.

Being a curious individual, James Simons always felt particularly interested in financial concepts. During the 1970’s he started considering founding his own company in the financial area. In 1978, Simons left the academia and opened his own company dedicated to managing hedge funds, naming it Monemetrics, where he understood that he was able to use mathematical patterns to read financial data. Then, he began hiring the most capable minds he knew from his previous time at the academia. He contacted individuals from his time at Stony Brook and Princeton, such as mathematicians, codebreakers, and scientist, data experts and engineers.

His venture was successful enough to give him improved results every year. In 1982, Simons decided to change the company name from Monemetrics to Renaissance Technologies, which prolifically grew over the years. Renaissance Technologies nowadays is in charge of over $22 billion in assets managed by the three funds it handles and works with singular mathematical patterns based on computer codes to forecast price variations in financial tools and uses financial signal decoding strategies like pattern reading which has given the company a commercial advantage over competitors.

In 2009, Simons retired as the company’s CEO and became a board member. Like other businessmen such as Warren Buffett, Jim Simons decided to dedicate most of his time to philanthropic causes such as the funding of his own foundation (the Simons Foundation, created in 1994) with a $60 million donation to found the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics at Stony Brook, and the Math for America organization – a not for profit organization dedicated to enhance mathematics teaching in public schools.

To read more about James Simons’ life, work, and legacy, you can click here.


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