Long Island Billionaire Jim Simons Dead at 86

Jim Simons
Hedge fund manager Jim Simons and his wife, Marilyn
Courtesy Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul

Jim Simons, the billionaire hedge fund leader, mathematical genius, and philanthropist from East Setauket who last year made a record-setting $500 million donation to Stony Brook University, died Friday. He was 86.

Born April 25, 1938 in Newton, Massachusetts, Simons worked as a code breaker during the Cold War and then served as chair of the Department of Mathematics at Stony Brook University for a decade. Simons in 1976 won the Oswald Veblen Prize of the American Mathematical Society. Two years later, he founded Monemetrics, a hedge fund that later became Renaissance Technologies and created the exclusive Medallion Fund, legendary for its decades of 71% annual returns. Forbes estimated Simons’ net worth at $21.6 billion in 2019.

“No one in the investment world comes close,” Gregory Zuckerman wrote in The Man Who Solved the Market: How Jim Simons Launched the Quant Revolution. “Warren Buffett, George Soros, Peter Lynch, Steve Cohen and Ray Dalio all fall short.”

Simons brought in mathematicians, academics and a small army of PhDs including computer scientists Peter Brown and Robert Mercer, who later became co-CEO. Simons led Renaissance until he retired in late 2009 and stepped down as chairman in 2021. 

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Renaissance was the top financial firm contributing to federal campaigns in the 2016 election, when its managers reportedly contributed nearly $30 million. Mercer ranked as the No. 1 individual federal donor that year, and is credited with helping get Donald Trump elected president. Simons ranked No. 5, supporting Democrats.

In 2017, Renaissance Technologies agreed to pay the IRS reportedly about $6.8 billion, in what was touted as the biggest tax settlement in U.S. history. The famously low-profile Simons hadn’t made much news since, until last year, when the Simons Foundation announced the half-billion-dollar will be delivered to Stony Brook over seven years and will go directly to the university’s endowment rather than being earmarked for a specific project.

“I just love Stony Brook. It’s just a wonderful institution in every respect,” Simons had said in announcing the gift at the Simons Foundation’s headquarters in Manhattan.

“Jim was an exceptional leader who did transformative work in mathematics and developed a world-leading investment company,” Simons Foundation President David Spergel said in a statement. “Together with Marilyn Simons, the current Simons Foundation board chair, Jim created an organization that has already had enormous impact in mathematics, basic science and our understanding of autism. The Simons Foundation, an in-perpetuity foundation, will carry their vision for philanthropy into the future.”

He is survived by his wife Marilyn, three children, five grandchildren, and a great grandchild. The foundation said funeral arrangements will be announced later.

-With Associated Press and Claude Solnik

Related Story: Stony Brook University Partners With Simons Foundation for Autism Research Initiative