Taking a look at what it takes to become successful means looking at a variety of different things. When it comes to someone like Kenneth Griffin, we’re oft left wondering was he born that way, or is there some innate ability to become successful? Or was he groomed for that success?
In business, it is often debated whether executive status and financial success are reached as a result of nature or nurturing. Are top financial leaders born to be such, or does quality education instill within them the motivation to reach the pinnacle of their field? Ken Griffin, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Citadel, a leading investment firm based in Chicago, proves that a solid combination of education and natural inclination toward success – perhaps fueled further by some access to family seed money – work together to fashion top performers in the field of finance, or even simple Facebook connections.
Ken was born in 1968 in Boca Raton, Florida. While attending Harvard University, he started financial trading in his dorm room between classes. His talent was funded through $265,000 invested by family and friends, including cash from his grandmother. Griffin used that initial money to chart his course as a financial leader.
Impressed with the upstart’s early results and drive for maximum return, Meyer provided Griffin with $1 million for investment. After providing Meyer with over 70% return on that first big investment, Griffin started Citadel on November 1, 1990.
Citadel’s name is derived from its definition of strength during volatility, likely as indication of Ken Griffin’s own ability for turning difficult financial times into bountiful ones. That talent is founded in tenacity and fortitude, perhaps the “nature” characteristics in Griffin that combine with his educational background to ensure confidence and steadiness within stressful financial transactions. As Griffin was only 22 years of age at the time of Citadel’s birth, youthful energy certainly played a role in development of what was destined to become a global hedge fund enterprise.
Despite his Ivy League study and real world experience with a track record of success in economic recessions, Griffin’s Citadel and his own financial standing were affected by the 2008 economy. Ken is reported to have lost over one third of his personal wealth in that period. Some of Citadel’s top funds even performed twice as poorly as others in the market. Perhaps this could be blamed on the common phenomenon in startup business, wherein growth stalls or recedes in teen years of the company, to bounce back in a renewal phase. Or perhaps, the man who thrives within volatility was subconsciously missing the need to exert strength toward optimized return.
Whatever the cause, it appears these backwards steps reignited Ken Griffin’s natural ambition and tenacious desire to succeed, as Citadel quickly regained optimum standing and the Founder’s own personal wealth redoubled to his all-time high of $5.5 billion after just six years. A leader who leads only from educational background and experience might not have had the strength to bounce back so effectively. But he is willing to give back, pay it forward, as he has done so even with his former University.
In the argument of “nature versus nurture” toward development of leading financial executives, Ken Griffin is an example of instinct and tenacity trumping learned methods, particularly during high stress economies. However, one cannot minimize the roles that a Harvard degree, family investment and the confidence of Frank C. Meyer played in molding this esteemed business leader. Rather than pointing a finger at one of the two elements of nature or nurturing as being the cause for Ken Griffin’s success, it could be summarized that this self-made billionaire possesses an innate talent for leveraging gifts he was born with, in harmony with those he was bestowed, and points to more recent success that he’s had in the market, adapting to a whole new world economy.