James Harris Simons, or Jim Simons, is known as the "Quant King," having started one of the most successful quant funds in the world—Renaissance Technologies (“Rentech”). Before Rentech, Simons spent time at the National Security Agency (NSA) and taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard. 

At 44 years old in 1982 he founded Renaissance Technologies, where he served as the chairman and CEO. In 2010, he retired from his role as chairman and CEO of the fund but remains as a non-executive chairman.

Key Takeaways

  • Jim Simons is a mathematician, having taught at MIT and Havard, and later serving as the chair of the mathematics department at Stony Brook University. 
  • Simons was a code breaker for the Institute for Defense Analyses during the Vietnam War. 
  • Simons is famous for founding one of the most successful quant funds in history, Renaissance Technologies. He served as CEO/chairman from its founding in 1982 until 2010 when he stepped down. 
  • His net worth as of 2019 was $21.6 billion.
  • "I disparage some for whom model-making was a part-time hobby,” said Simons in a speech at MIT in 2011. 

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, he had the ambitious plan of becoming a mathematician at 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. After just one year, he received his doctorate at the age of 23 in 1961. Thereafter, he went on to teach mathematics at MIT and Harvard. The Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) recruited Simons in 1964, where he played a key role as a code breaker during the Vietnam War.

Simons left IDA after four years and went on to become the chairman of the mathematics department at Stony Brook University, where he helped develop key roles in mathematics and physics. It wasn't until 1978 that he started delving into finance.

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 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.

$110 billion

Renaissance Technologies' assets under management as of 2019.

Current Net Worth and Influence

Jim Simons ranked 44th on the Forbes world billionaires list as of Oct. 23, 2019, with a $21.6 billion net worth. The Quant King ranked 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 their roles and advance their teaching abilities.

Most Influential Quotes

Jim Simons is a big advocate of idea sharing and hiring the brightest people from various scientific-related fields. The following quote gives an insight into how he 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." 

Simons made the below remark when speaking about those who thought model-making was not useful in the real world. This quote was part of a speech at MIT in 2011. His life's work and uses of sophisticated models helped solidify the company as one of the top hedge funds in the world.

"I disparage some for whom model-making was a part-time hobby," Simons once said.