James Harris Simons, or Jim Simons, is known as the "Quant King" and one of the greatest investors of all time, after having started one of the most successful quant funds in the world, Renaissance Technologies (“Rentech”). Simons founded Rentech in 1982 at just 44 years old. He served as the chair and CEO until 2010 when he retired from his role. He still remains as a non-executive chair.

Key Takeaways

  • Jim Simons is known as one of the greatest investors of all time, due to the long-term returns of his quant fund Renaissance Technologies and its flagship Medallion Fund.
  • Simons served as CEO and chair of Renaissance Technologies from its founding in 1982 until 2010 when he stepped down. Prior to a career in finance, Simons was also a successful mathematician and taught at MIT, Harvard, as well as served as the chair of the mathematics department at Stony Brook University. 
  • As of 2021, Forbes estimated Jim Simons' net worth at $23.5 billion, making him the 23rd richest person in the United States.

Early Life and Education

Jim Simons was born in 1938 in Brookline, Mass., and discovered his love for mathematics at an early age. At the age of 14, Simons worked at a garden supply store as a floor sweeper after being demoted from a stock boy position due to his lack of memory of inventory location. However, Simons was astute and had the ambitious plan of becoming a mathematician at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

In 1955, Simons was accepted into MIT and majored in mathematics. Upon graduating, Simons studied at the University of California at Berkeley for his doctorate in mathematics. His thesis focused on providing supporting proof of Berger's classification of the holonomy groups of Riemannian manifolds, and after just one year, he received his doctorate at the age of 23 in 1961.

Later, Simons worked on important mathematical theories, including the Chern-Simons form, which later played a role in topological quantum field theory. He had an early and successful career in mathematics, winning multiple awards, and later was inducted into the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

In 1964, Simons was recruited by The Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), where he played a key role to break codes during the Vietnam War. Simons left IDA after four years and went on to teach mathematics at MIT and Harvard University.

Eventually, he was appointed to become the chair of the mathematics department at Stony Brook University, where he helped develop the mathematics and physics programs while still being sought after by companies such as IBM for his consulting work. It wasn't until 1978 that he started delving into finance.

Investment Philosophy & Success Story

Despite already having successful careers as a prize-winning mathematician and a master code breaker for the IDA, Jim Simons decided to pursue a career in finance. In 1978, the mathematician started the hedge fund Monemetrics, which was the predecessor to the highly successful Renaissance Technologies.

Simons didn't think to apply mathematics to his hedge fund at first; however, over time, he realized he could use mathematical and statistical models to interpret data by looking for non-random movements in financial data to predict future returns.

By 1988, Simons decided to solely use quantitative analysis to decide which trades to enter. Simons only sought experts in mathematics, data analysis, and many other scientific-related fields to work with him at the fund. The Quant King filled the fund with programmers, mathematicians, physicists, and cryptographers. The company thrived due to the complex mathematical formulas these scientists developed.

Since its inception, Renaissance Technologies' flagship fund, the Medallion hedge fund, has generated over $100 billion in trading profits with an average annual return of 71.8% before fees between 1994 and mid-2014. Unfortunately, the Medallion fund is only available for its employees and family members.

$165 billion

Renaissance Technologies' assets under management as of 2020.

Current Net Worth and Influence

Jim Simons ranked 23rd on Forbes' wealthiest Americans list in 2020, with an estimated $23.5 billion net worth. The Quant King also ranks first on the Forbes 2019 list of highest-earning hedge fund managers.

Simons has a great deal of influence in the scientific world and co-founded the Simons Foundation with his wife, Marilyn Simons, in 1994. The Simons Foundation is devoted to supporting scientific research, education, and health. Simons has contributed over $2.7 billion of his wealth to this cause as well as to support autism research.

Additionally, Simons founded Math for America, which aims to encourage mathematics and science teachers to remain in their roles and advance their teaching abilities.

Jim Simons Quotes

Jim Simons is a big advocate of idea sharing and hiring the brightest people from various science-related fields. However, Simons frequently avoids the spotlight and doesn't give many interviews. The following quotes give just a sliver of insight into how he's managed and built Rentech.

"Great people. Great infrastructure. Open environment. Get everyone compensated roughly based on the overall performance...That made a lot of money." 

“We search through historical data looking for anomalous patterns that we would not expect to occur at random.”

"Past performance is the best predictor of success."

"We have three criteria: If it's publicly traded, liquid, and amenable to modeling, we trade it."

"Efficient market theory is correct in that there are no gross inefficiencies. But we look at anomalies that may be small in size and brief in time. We make our forecast. Then, shortly thereafter, we re-evaluate the situation and revise our forecast and our portfolio. We do this all day long. We're always in and out and out and in. So we're dependent on activity to make money."

"I disparage some for whom model-making was a part-time hobby," Simons once said as part of a speech at MIT in 2011. Simons made the remark when speaking about those who thought model-making was not useful in the real world.

Jim Simons FAQs

Is Jim Simons the Most Successful Investor of All Time?

Jim Simons is the richest hedge fund manager and has been called the world's greatest investor by the Wall Street Journal. Although success is subjective, other investors such as Warren Buffett are considered among the world's greatest investors.

What Is Jim Simons' Strategy?

Jim Simons exclusively uses quantitative analysis to decide which trades to enter, based on market inefficiencies.

Can I Invest in the Medallion Fund?

Unfortunately, the Medallion fund is closed to outside investors and is only available to current and past employees of Renaissance Technologies.

Who Is the Richest Hedge Fund Manager?

According to Forbes, Jim Simons is the richest hedge fund manager in America.

How Much Do the Top Hedge Fund Managers Make?

According to the latest data from Forbes, the top 10 hedge fund managers make well over $500 million a year, all the way up to $1 billion. Jim Simons is currently the richest hedge fund manager and made $1.6 billion in 2017.

The Bottom Line

An unlikely mathematician turned Wall Street on its head back in 1982. Since then, Jim Simons and his Renaissance Technologies quant fund have left a legacy that will forever change the world of finance. The numbers are hard to argue with after logging the Medallion Fund's skyrocketing returns.