It’s time to celebrate the human side of the hedge fund industry

 
Piers Butler
Tsunami Relief Efforts Continue In Sri Lanka
From funding paediatric cancer research to disaster relief, hedge fund philanthropists are active in solving the world's problems (Source: Getty)

Last year, I found myself in a room full of grown men and women who were moved to tears by an unassuming woman with a powerful message.


This brave mother recounted her young son’s battle with cancer and how his nurses and doctors ensured that no Christmas was left uncelebrated for the three years the little boy, named Blue, had to endure intense chemotherapy. Her story was the inspiring tale of countless medical practitioners who immerse themselves daily in the fight for survival that so many families with sick children undertake.

What was unusual about Blue’s mother’s speech, though, were the faces that filled the very room she addressed. The audience members were not patients, advocates, or doctors, but a group of hedge fund professionals who were rallying behind her cause. The top talent from London’s hedge fund scene had come together for a fourth year to give back in a big way. A Sohn way.

The Sohn Conference is one of Wall-Street’s most well-attended and sought-after tickets. Founded just over 20 years ago following the premature death of Ira W Sohn, a Wall Street trader who lost his battle to cancer at the age of 29, the Sohn Investment Conference has gone on to raise more than $70m around the world. What originally began as a humble and local tribute to a beloved friend, brother, and colleague has grown into a global Foundation with yearly investment conferences taking place in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, New York, San Francisco, Tel Aviv and the UK.

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The thesis of each conference is simple: inviting the sharpest and most innovative investors in the host country to present their ground-breaking investment ideas under one roof. All proceeds from the New York-based conference go on to support cutting-edge medical research, state-of-the-art research equipment, and innovative programmes to ensure children with cancer survive and thrive.

After attending Sohn’s flagship conference in New York several years ago, young financier Manuel Stotz was inspired and determined to find a way to get involved directly and help bring the conference to London. The ethos of the conference spoke to him both on a human and professional level, so he ventured to find like-minded individuals from across the world of London finance to make his goal a reality. That’s how I soon found myself enveloped in late night calls and planning meetings with Manuel and fellow committee members Alexandre Casin, Dina Geha and Armenio Keusseyan as we worked to get this project off the ground.

After all, every investor seeks high returns, so leveraging good ideas to raise money for paediatric cancer research seemed like a great way to give something back. It also struck me as a much more original concept than all the charity dinners that many of us in the finance industry get invited to. To be able to offer the industry an alternative by bringing the Sohn Conference to London for the first time was both an honour and a great challenge. And here we are now in our fifth year.

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Hedge fund professionals are often maligned for their lack of interest in charitable causes, but the reality is that hedge fund investors have been putting their millions to work for many years, helping address some of the most challenging questions facing our world: everything from fighting poverty, helping communities hit by natural disasters, and funding research for children suffering from cancer. In fact, I think it is fair to say that the philanthropic efforts of hedge funds have brought attention to the age-old truism that human suffering is universal and touches people across demographics and continents – irrespective of age, class, or stature.

The Sohn Conference is one of the numerous ways that the hedge fund community has come together to help address global problems. Yet Sohn is not unique in its mission. If you take a look at the Robin Hood Foundation, founded by Paul Tudor Jones of the Tudor Investment Corporation, or The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, set up by Sir Christopher Hohn and Jamie Cooper-Hohn, both organisations have found groundbreaking and effective ways of addressing the issues of poverty in the US and children’s poverty in developing countries, respectively. This year we are proud to have Sir Christopher Hohn as a presenter at the conference to inspire the large audience of investors with his best investment idea – all in the name of the Sohn Foundation’s cause.

There are countless further examples of prominent investment managers who have recognised that with great power comes great responsibility. These men and women have chosen to donate their time, money, and publicity to ensure that the world’s biggest problems are not ignored. Thanks to this wider community, Sohn London continues to raise funds to help fight paediatric cancer and ensures that families like Blue’s receive the support and care they deserve.

This year’s conference will take place 8 December at the Marriott Grosvenor Square. Past beneficiaries include Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, Great Ormond Street Hospital, and the Delete Blood Cancer Foundation.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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