Pierre-Adrien Nicolas
Squarepoint Capital

These are not halcyon days for hedge funds, but as good investors know, that’s when the best opportunities come along. London-based Squarepoint Capital, in a highly anticipated launch, was spun out from Barclays at the end of 2014. Pierre-Adrien Nicolas, the firm’s CIO for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, is still just 32, but he already knows a thing or two about the fickleness of markets.

Nicolas grew up in Normandy, France, the son of a lawyer and a speech therapist. He studied mathematics and physics, receiving a master’s degree in applied math from France’s École Polytechnique before earning an MS in financial engineering at Columbia University in New York. Upon graduating from Columbia in 2007, he joined Lehman Brothers Holdings as a proprietary trader. In hindsight, the quant’s entry into finance could look like bad timing. Nicolas had planned to join Lehman Brothers in New York, but he was hired in London, where he became part of a quantitative trading business started at the bank by Olivier Durantel and Gregoire Schneider in 2000.

The year after Nicolas arrived at Lehman, bad bets on U.S. subprime mortgages and a highly leveraged balance sheet forced it to declare bankruptcy in September. When Barclays bought the Wall Street firm out of Chapter 11, Nicolas and his colleagues found themselves doing proprietary trading for the British bank. Owing to regulatory changes in recent years, banks have been dismantling their prop trading businesses, so it was inevitable that nQuants, as the team was known, would have to spin out of Barclays or otherwise be disbanded. In 2014 news broke that nQuants was leaving. Nicolas was one of a team of about 65 that departed to launch Squarepoint, which began trading in early 2015.

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