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George Soros, American financier
George Soros, (born August 12, 1930, Budapest, Hungary), Hungarian-born American financier, author, philanthropist, and activist whose success as an investor made him one of the wealthiest men in the world. He was also known as a powerful and influential supporter of liberal social causes.
Soros, who was born into a prosperous Jewish family, had his upbringing disrupted by the Nazis’ arrival in Hungary in 1944. The family split up and used false papers to avoid being sent to concentration camps. In 1947 they moved to London. Soros studied philosophy under Karl Popper at the London School of Economics, but he abandoned his plans to become a philosopher. He joined the London merchant bank Singer & Friedlander. In 1956 he moved to New York City, where he worked initially as an analyst of European securities and rapidly made his mark.
In 1973 Soros established the Soros Fund (later Quantum Endowment Fund), a hedge fund that subsequently spawned a range of associated companies. His daring investment decisions caused the funds to grow rapidly, but not all his gambles succeeded. He correctly foresaw the worldwide stock market crash of October 1987—but wrongly predicted that Japanese stocks would fall hardest of all.
Soros’s status as an almost mythical financier was established in September 1992 when the British government devalued the pound sterling. Through his Quantum group of companies, Soros had sold billions of pounds during the days preceding devaluation, much of it purchased with borrowed money. Afterward Soros bought back pounds, repaid the money he had borrowed, and made a profit of about $1 billion. Others also profited from the pound’s fall, but the scale of Soros’s operations dwarfed those of everyone else, and the gambit earned him the nickname “the man who broke the Bank of England.” In 1994, however, his instincts appeared to fail him—at least temporarily—as he speculated that the dollar would rise in value against the Japanese yen. Instead, the dollar fell all year, and the Quantum Fund reportedly lost hundreds of millions on a single day in February.
Philanthropy and political activism
In 1984 Soros used some of his profits to create the Open Society Foundations, a philanthropic organization that included a network of foundations. Much of the initial work focused on eastern Europe—starting with Hungary, where he awarded scholarships, provided technical assistance, and helped modernize schools and businesses. Even though Hungary was still a communist state, Soros obtained guarantees that his foundation could operate without government interference.
As the Cold War ended and the Soviet regime collapsed, Soros established foundations in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russia, and Yugoslavia. Some critics argued that he was being inconsistent—condemning “short-termism” in Western governments while making money from short-term currency speculation. However, he continued to spend significant sums to help establish democracy in eastern Europe and elsewhere. In the early 21st century Open Society Foundations was active in more than 70 countries. In 2017 it was reported that Soros had given some $18 billion to the organization in recent years, making it one of the world’s largest philanthropic groups.
What companies does George Soros own
Under George Soros’s leadership, the Open Society Foundations support individuals and organizations across the globe fighting for freedom of expression, accountable government, and societies that promote justice and equality.
George Soros experienced ethnic and political intolerance firsthand. Born in Hungary in 1930, he lived through the Nazi occupation of 1944–1945, which resulted in the murder of over 500,000 Hungarian Jews. His own Jewish family survived by securing false identity papers, concealing their backgrounds, and helping others do the same. Soros later recalled that “not only did we survive, but we managed to help others.”
George Soros began his philanthropy in 1979, giving scholarships to Black South Africans under apartheid. In the 1980s, he helped promote the open exchange of ideas in Communist Hungary by funding academic visits to the West and supporting fledgling independent cultural groups, as well as other initiatives. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he created Central European University as a space to foster critical thinking—which at that time was an alien concept for most universities in the former Communist bloc.
With the Cold War over, he gradually expanded his philanthropy to Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the United States, supporting a vast array of new efforts to create more accountable, transparent, and democratic societies. He was one of the early prominent voices to criticize the war on drugs as “arguably more harmful than the drug problem itself,” and helped kick-start America’s medical marijuana movement. In the early 2000s, he became a vocal backer of same-sex marriage efforts. Though his causes have evolved over time, they continue to hew closely to his ideals of an open society.
Highlights of George Soros and the Open Society Foundations
His giving has reached beyond his own Foundations, supporting independent organizations such as Global Witness, the International Crisis Group, the European Council on Foreign Relations, and the Institute for New Economic Thinking.
Now in his 90s, Soros continues to take an active personal interest in the Open Society Foundations, traveling widely to support our work and advocating for positive policy changes with world leaders, both publicly and privately.
In 2017, the Open Society Foundations announced that Soros had transferred $18 billion of his fortune towards funding the future work of the Foundations, bringing his total giving to the Foundations since 1984 to over $32 billion.
“I believe that in philanthropy one should do the right thing, whether or not it succeeds.” —George Soros
Throughout Soros’s philanthropic career, one thing has remained constant: a commitment to fighting the world’s most intractable problems. He has been known to emphasize the importance of tackling losing causes. Indeed, many of the issues Soros has taken on—and he would be the first to admit this—are the types of issues for which a complete solution might never emerge.
“My success in the financial markets has given me a greater degree of independence than most other people,” Soros once wrote. That independence has allowed him to forge his own path toward a world that’s more open, more just, and more equitable for all.
How did George Soros make his money
As a young man, he started out with nothing. He waited tables, worked as a porter at a railway station, and was a traveling salesman of knick knacks.
He wrote every single bank for a job, all of which rejected him, except one called Singer and Freidlander, where he only got an entry level job because the manager there also happened to be a Hungarian Jew and took pity on young Soros. While working there he got his BA and masters college degrees. After about 10 years working at several firms, Soros was a millionaire.
During this period he developed his idea of reflexivity, which says that prices move not only because of economic forces, but because of investor bias, which causes price moves to overshoot or undershoot price levels justified by economic forces and leads to boom and bust cycles.
Soros hit the big time when he partnered with Jim Rogers to start a hedge fund in the early 70’s. Rogers was a hard core value investor who once said “when you buy something, you wait until it’s so cheap, it’s like just like walking over there and picking up money from the ground”. Rogers’ value investment philosophy and Soros’ theory that investors overreact meshed together beautifully.
Their “big idea” was that monetary and fiscal policies started by US to pay for Vietnam war without massive tax increases or cuts in social spending would lead to years long bull market in commodities. In a legendary 10 year run their fund returned 4200% while the S&P returned less than 50%. He took a $10 mil investment from the Rothschild family and returned $300 mil to them in less than 10 years, while taking 20% of the profits along the way. Rogers cashed out of the hedge fund to trade his own money, be a college professor, date pretty young women, and travel the world while Soros stayed.
Eventually Soros took on Stanley Druckenmiller as his protegé (Druckenmiller himself ran a hedge fund that returned 30% a year for 29 years without having a single losing year). This eventually evolved into Quantum Funds which is pretty much the gold standard when it comes to macro economic hedge funds.