Yusef Kassim
Blue Harbour Group

For Yusef Kassim, 39, succeeding in hedge funds has reinforced the importance of his early opportunities to learn about business and industry. He co-founded and sits on the governing board of America Needs You, a national nonprofit that secures professional internships and aids in career development for first-generation college students.

Kassim’s parents came to the U.S. in the early 1970s from the war-torn West African nation of Sierra Leone. Arriving separately with nothing, they met through the Sierra Leone diaspora community in Washington, D.C. Married and still in their early 20s, the couple attended college while bringing up Kassim and his brothers. The Kassim household was a small inner-city apartment that always housed at least eight to ten people, including aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. Kassim’s father earned his Ph.D. in chemistry, and his mother became a social worker. Kassim went to public school in D.C. before attending the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in systems engineering with a minor in mathematics.

Entering the Ivy League was life-changing: He started learning about the world of finance and the depth and diversity of opportunities that awaited him. During his senior year, Kassim won a spot in Goldman Sachs Group’s analyst training program in New York, working in the equities division. In 1999 he joined the firm’s new prime brokerage group.

Two years later Kassim made a leap of faith and moved to Gerson Lehrman Group, a New York–based research start-up that offers hedge fund managers access to sector industry experts. At GLG, where he was co-head of and built up the technology, media and telecommunications business, his client service skills stood out. In 2007, Kassim was hired away by one of his local hedge fund clients, R6 Capital Management, to head marketing and investor relations. Within a year, R6 merged into Eton Park Capital Management, Goldman Sachs alumnus Eric Mindich’s multistrategy hedge fund firm. Kassim was absorbed into the investor relations team at $8.5 billion, New York–headquartered Eton Park. Last year Blue Harbour Group, a $3.3 billion activist hedge fund firm based in Greenwich, Connecticut, hired him as a managing director and partner within investor relations.

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