A noted mathematician, Jim Simons revolutionized investing when he left academia in 1978, at the age of 40, to begin trading on Wall Street. Relying on his mathematical background and large sets of data, Simons was an early pioneer in quantitative, or model-based, trading. He was one of the first people on Wall Street to build computer models that could identify and profit from patterns in the market. In 1982, Simons launched Renaissance Technologies from a strip mall in Long Island, New York. In 1988, the firm established its signature Medallion fund, which is famed for having the best record in investing history, returning more than 66% annualized before fees and 39% after fees over a 30-year span from 1988 to 2018. A gifted student from the beginning, Simons earned his doctorate in mathematics at the age of 23. Over the course of his career, he also worked with the National Security Agency to break codes and taught mathematics at Harvard. Among his numerous awards and honors, Simons was named by the Financial Times as "the world's smartest billionaire" in 2006.

A Massachusetts native, Simons blew through the equivalent of advanced placement in high school and was accepted at the prestigious MIT. In his freshman year, he was ambitious enough to enroll in a graduate level mathematics class even though he didn’t have much of a sense of what a mathematician actually did. As he immersed himself in his studies at MIT, he started to feel more and more like a mathematician. The clincher in his deciding to pursue a career in mathematics came when he saw two MIT mathematicians, Isadore Singer and Warren Ambrose, launch into a deep discussion late at night at a café. "I thought it was the coolest thing—what a life, to go out at 2 a.m. with friends and do math over coffee," Simons said. "It seemed like the world’s greatest career." In July 1958, after just three years at MIT, Simons collected his bachelor's degree in mathematics.

On top of his many accolades, Simons has a lengthy record of service at MIT. Besides being an MIT Corporation life member emeritus, Simons also briefly taught mathematics at his alma mater during the 1960s. More recently, in 2018, he was named the recipient of the S. Donald Sussman Fellowship at MIT. In addition, Simons and his wife funded the renovation of the building housing the mathematics department at MIT, which in 2016 was named after the two of them. "Jim is a wonderful testament to his MIT education," said Michael Sipser, Dean of the School of Science and former mathematics department head, "utilizing his mathematical acumen in government and academia, and then to carve out a unique niche in the investment world."