Neal Pawar
Chief Technology Officer
AQR Capital Management

The “AQR” in AQR Capital Management stands for “applied quantitative research,” reflecting the foundation of the Greenwich, Connecticut–based firm and its strategies in investment theory and philosophy. Though relying heavily on quantitative analysis, AQR managing principal Clifford Asness, his co-founders and the senior team they assembled were not computer scientists in the mold of, say, D.E. Shaw & Co.’s David Shaw. Two years ago they got their computer scientist when Pawar joined as an AQR principal and chief technology officer. “Assets under management were growing rapidly,” and tech priorities were geared toward “time-to-market, or meeting the needs of the growing business,” recalls Pawar, 44, whose background includes 11 years at D.E. Shaw. “I had the luxury of being able to step back,” devoting his first three months to gaining an understanding of the organization and its technology and, in keeping with AQR’s collaborative and transparent culture, conferring with the executive committee on the transformational road map. Pawar says he didn’t have a completely clean slate — legacy models and processes had to be accommodated — but, handed the rare opportunity to staff up and rebuild a major investment management platform, he was able to instill “the flavor of a start-up.” With a total of 645 employees, AQR has more than 200 technologists, both full-time and consultants. Wanted: “people who are hands-on and love to code,” says Pawar, who grew up in the U.K. and India and started coding at age ten on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum before earning an undergraduate degree in computer science from Brown University. After graduating in 1994 he was hired as a programmer at high-tech Chicago derivatives brokerage O’Connor & Associates. Between 2000 and 2014 he served as co–chief information officer at D.E. Shaw and CIO at UBS Wealth Management (overseeing a few thousand engineers and a $1 billion tech budget). This was appropriate preparation for AQR, which started in 1998 and as of March 31 this year had $153.6 billion in assets under management, both traditional and alternative. (It ranked No. 3 in the Hedge Fund 100 of Institutional Investor’s Alpha, with $47.2 billion; D.E. Shaw was No. 7, with $33.1 billion.) Pawar brings a fresh perspective to the question of whether to build proprietary technology or buy from the outside: “Build where it truly differentiates the firm. We are constantly evaluating buy versus build, especially in a rapidly growing fintech space.”

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