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Jim Simons revamps Renaissance board in nod to new generation

Renaissance Technologies is reshaping the group of directors who will eventually succeed founder Jim Simons in overseeing one of the world’s most lucrative hedge funds.

The firm is doubling the number of members on its board and has promoted Jim’s son, Nathaniel Simons, to co-chairman, according to regulatory filings.

The appointments open the way for a new generation of younger directors to guide the $75 billion money manager. The promotion also positions Nathaniel — who runs his own hedge fund and isn’t involved in day-to-day operations at Renaissance — to assume his father’s role as chairman under a succession plan that began about a decade ago.

A former Cold War code breaker who founded Renaissance in 1982, Jim Simons retired in 2010 and handed his chief executive title to deputies Peter Brown and Robert Mercer.
A former Cold War code breaker who founded Renaissance in 1982, Jim Simons retired in 2010 and handed his chief executive title to deputies Peter Brown and Robert Mercer.

While some hedge fund founders, such as Ray Dalio and Izzy Englander, have faced difficulty anointing new managers to run their firms, Jim Simons, now 81, has managed to step away from his business and see Renaissance continue to increase assets and deliver outsized returns at its flagship Medallion Fund.

“Jim has created a setup so that the firm will live beyond its founder,” said Sandy Gross, the founder of Pinetum Partners, an executive coaching and search firm that specializes in the financial services industry. “And he is providing an opportunity for his son to keep the family’s money invested in the firm.”

A former Cold War code breaker who founded Renaissance in 1982, Simons retired in 2010 and handed his chief executive title to deputies Peter Brown and Robert Mercer.

At the time, Simons said in a letter to investors that he would continue as the firm’s principal shareholder and non-executive chairman, attending executive committee and board meetings while also “participating in all major corporate decisions.”

The mostly successful transition hit a bump in late 2017, when Simons asked Mercer to relinquish his co-CEO title and board seat. The request came after Mercer’s backing for organizations such as the conservative website Breitbart News and the consulting firm Cambridge Analytica brought a wave of negative publicity to the secretive firm and hurt employee morale.

The new board at the firm has 10 members. Four of the five additional directors — Alan Stange, David Lippe, Anne Small and Jim Rowen — are Renaissance executives with key operating, legal and trading roles. As well as moving up his son, Simons also added his son-in-law Mark Heising to the group.

Nathaniel Simons, 53, has been vice chairman of Renaissance since 2006, according to regulatory filings. He runs San Francisco-based Meritage Group.

Nathaniel’s new title at Renaissance signals that he’s being groomed by his father to take over as chairman, said Carolyn Schubert, a managing director at executive search firm Kincannon & Reed, who was speaking generally and has no knowledge of Renaissance’s plans.

A look at the new Renaissance board members:

  • Stange, 55, is Renaissance’s head of non-research infrastructure.
  • Rowen, 55, is the firm’s chief operating officer.
  • Lippe, head of research for Renaissance’s outside funds, is 48.
  • Small, the 45 year-old general counsel, previously served as general counsel at the SEC and as special assistant and associate counsel to former President Obama.
  • Heising, 62, is also a director of the Heising-Simons Foundation, where his wife Liz Simons is the chair.

Renaissance has made Simons one of the world’s wealthiest people with an estimated net worth of about $21 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The firm’s Medallion Fund invests exclusively on behalf of the Simons family and Renaissance employees. Through 2018, it had generated average annual returns of 39% after fees since 1988.

Bloomberg News