In writing about hedge fund managers and other celebs in the world of finance, sometimes I find myself wondering what these men were like as children, before the billions, and the bitches, and the fleece. I’m pretty sure Ken Griffin carried a briefcase to school starting at the age of 5, and the 12 year-old Jim Simons was a lot like the 72 year–old one we know today– bearded and chain smoking a pack of Pall Malls. Stevie didn’t develop a taste for the finer things in life (fleece) until college, preferring until then to swath himself exclusively in silk. And so on and so forth. But what of Biff Basness? I’ve had some difficulty getting a good picture of the AQR founder in my head. Luckily, a new book by Wall Street Journal reporter Scott Patterson, The Quants, sheds a little light.
As a child, Clifford Scott Asness gave no sign of his future as a Wall Street tycoon. He was born in October 1966 in Queens, New York. When he was four, his family moved to the leafy suburban environs of Roslyn Heights on Long Island. In school Asness received good grades, but his interest in Wall Street didn’t extend beyond the dark towers of Gotham in the pages of Batman. Obsessed with little besides girls and comic books, Asness was a listless teenager, without direction and somewhat overweight. At times he showed signs of a violent temper that would erupt years later when he sat at the helm of his own hedge fund. Once a chess team rival taunted him in the school’s parking lot about a recent match.
That’s when things got real.
Enraged, Asness seized his tormentor and tossed him into a nearby van, over and over again.