Employees marvel at his mental math, particularly an ability to calculate probabilities and apply them to almost everything. When the firm was making plans to expand to Asia last year, Schonfeld asked Andrew Fishman, the company’s president, and Chief Investment Officer Ryan Tolkin to develop probabilities of success and upside and downside ratios to four different paths, including an acquisition and building a unit from scratch. They wound up buying Folger Hill Asia, providing the firm with some of its top fundamental equity traders.

“He has always understood the probabilities associated with a particular decision,” said Fishman, who met Schonfeld some 40 years ago at Emory, where they played 3-on-3 tournament basketball together. “He understands there may be losses. But if you have the probabilities in your favor, over time you will be successful.”

Schonfeld’s obsession with numbers began as a kid growing up on Long Island, delivering newspapers and pizzas and admiring his father, who ran his own garment business in New York. At age 9, he memorized all the statistics on baseball cards for the San Francisco Giants and then recalculated the averages in his head to make sure they were right. These days, when he’s courtside at New York Knicks games, he quickly works through changes to the betting spread at halftime based on first-half results -- no easy task.

During the interview, he sprang from his chair to show a reporter the updates he gets every 10 minutes on his smartphone with the performance numbers of his 80 trading teams.

“I never miss a 10-minute reading,” said Schonfeld, laughing at his own teenager-like phone habits. He also meets with Fishman and Tolkin twice a week for breakfast and talks with them daily about the business.

Schonfeld started out in 1988 with $440,000 from working as a stockbroker and built a short-term trading business with more than 1,000 employees. His firm was one of the first to use the strategy, taking advantage of volatility with bets that lasted a few hours to a few days. He made $200 million in 2000 at the peak of the dot-com bubble. The market crash in 2001 produced the first of two down years for the firm.

Early Mistake
Schonfeld pivoted into quant trading as it was taking off in 2006. He saw that the faster computer-driven strategies were getting in the way of his traders and figured only the best of them would succeed over the long run.

The firm made a mistake as it morphed into a quant shop. Early on it relied too much on a single technology as the core of its data research environment.

“It cost us a certain amount of money,” said Tolkin, who worked on Goldman’s corporate credit trading team before joining Schonfeld in 2013. “We have recognized that there are multiple ways to do things and we have to be more flexible about how we ingest, clean and store data to create an environment that our quants and teams can more successfully gather data from.”

But the successes have far outweighed the failures.