Jim Simons was not a classic financier - quite the opposite. He began his career in Boston, the city of his birth. The son of a shoe factory executive, he became a professor at Harvard University and the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His career took a turn for the worse during the Cold War, when he joined an American intelligence organization fighting the USSR. His skills were undeniably noticed. He succeeded in breaking the Soviet code, but was later dismissed for his stance against the Vietnam War. The story could already feature in a synopsis for a Clint Eastwood film, but it's really just the beginning. Our protagonist returns to Stony Brook University in New York. He heads the mathematics department and earns the highest possible distinction for his work in geometry.

But Jim Simons wants more. He wants wealth. His first wife highlights her ex-husband's thirst in an interview. "Money is power", he often told her.

So it was at the age of 40 that Jim Simons entered the world of finance in a rather timely fashion. At that time, in 1978, most investors were still fundamentalists. They talked to company directors, interpreted balance sheets and income statements, and relied on their intuition to decide whether or not to invest. Jim Simons wants to get his nose into charts, which many interpret as chaos. Simons believes, on the contrary, that variations are highly structured and therefore that markets are not random. He's certain that statistical anomalies can be exploited, and that's where his fortune will be made.

He created an automated trading system based on a mathematical and algorithmic approach. There is no human interface. Jim Simons jokes, "I want models that make me money while I sleep". He set up his own company, Renaissance Technologies. The company's performance quickly caught on. The figures are extraordinary: between 1988 and 2018, his company's main fund, Medaillon, generated over $100 billion in earnings, with an average annual return of 66% (!!!). Jim Simons won't be denied. After fees, the average return is 39%.

While quantitative trading is very common today (more than a third of the money traded on the markets), Jim Simons was behind a major innovation for his time. His performance is off the charts, far superior to that of other investment champions such as Buffet, Lynch or Soros. Algorithmic finance has lost one of its founders and mentors.