Julian Robertson, Jr., Founding Father of the Modern Hedge Fund Industry, Dies at Age 90

The Tiger Management founder leaves behind a legacy of philanthropy and a generation of hedge fund talent.

Julian Robertson (Peter Foley/Bloomberg )

Julian Robertson

(Peter Foley/Bloomberg )

Julian Robertson, Jr., one of the earliest pioneers in the hedge fund industry, has died. He was 90.

In addition to his decades-long career as a hedge fund manager, Robertson was well known for his philanthropy and for spawning a new generation of successful hedge fund managers.

Robertson died in his Manhattan home from cardiac complications, according to his son Alex.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Robertson’s Tiger Management was one of the three main faces of a lightly regulated private investment world, alongside George Soros’ Quantum Fund and Michael Steinhardt’s Steinhardt Partners. At that time there was very little transparency, and most of the investors were high-net-worth individuals.

From Robertson’s co-founding of Tiger Management in 1980 through 2000, Tiger’s flagship fund racked up a 31.5 percent annualized return, buying great companies and shorting lousy companies. At one point it was the world’s largest hedge fund firm, managing more than $21 billion.

However, Tiger suffered sharp setbacks in its final years when Robertson was reluctant to embrace the short-lived but red-hot dot-com frenzy and tech stocks in general.

His hedge funds had declined about 40 percent since the end of 1997, and total assets had shrunk by roughly 70 percent. Rumors were rampant that he was liquidating positions.

Around August of 1999, Robertson approached former Tiger manager Lee Ainslie III about merging his Maverick Capital with Tiger. The deal ultimately never materialized.

“Lee’s a darn good man,” Robertson told Institutional Investor in a September 2002 interview. “I thought that might be a good way for me to move on. And he would get bigger in size.”

On March 30, 2000, Robertson closed his then $6.5 billion in hedge funds and returned the capital to his remaining investors.

Alas, he shuttered his funds just weeks after the Nasdaq Composite index peaked in what would turn out to be the greatest stock market bubble of the 20th century.

In the 2002 interview with II, Robertson said he had no regrets about bailing out of the daily and often nightly grind of managing client money. “I just had a fine stress test this morning,” Robertson said. “It is so much more fun and less stressful running your own money and not everyone else’s.”

Robertson, however, will not only be known for his investing prowess. He was also a very active philanthropist who gave more than $2 billion to charity over the course of his life.

In 1996, Robertson and his wife Josie founded the Robertson Foundation, which focuses on four main areas: education, environment, religion, and medical research.

In 2000, the North Carolina native and his wife created The Robertson Scholars Program to encourage collaboration between Duke and the University of North Carolina.

“Julian was a mentor and a friend to so many people who aspire to live up to his example as both a great investor and an extraordinary philanthropist,” Ainsle said in a statement Tuesday.

Robertson also spent many years in New Zealand, where he was the owner of New Zealand golf resorts and was a vineyard owner and wine producer.

Throughout his money management career, Robertson emphasized the importance of giving back to every employee. “He taught them how to be good citizens,” said Daniel Strachman, author of Julian Robertson: A Tiger in the Land of Bulls and Bears, in a phone interview on Tuesday. “Yes, you can attain great wealth in the hedge fund industry. But you have a responsibility with that wealth. That’s his legacy.”

Robertson is well known for the number of successful former analysts and portfolio managers who struck out on their own before he shuttered Tiger Management.

They are known as Tiger Cubs, and several of them continue to enjoy great success, including Ainslie’s Maverick Capital Stephen Mandel, Jr.’s Lone Pine Capital, O. Andreas Halvorsen’s Viking Global Investors, Chase Coleman’s Tiger Global Management, and Philippe Laffont’s Coatue Management. Many others have retired.

“He was a terrific mentor and a first class human being,” Mandel said in a statement to II. “He had a constantly curious mind and was a great judge of people. It was a privilege to be his colleague. He will be missed. I certainly will.”

Since shutting down Tiger Management, Robertson also seeded dozens of hedge funds, with mixed success. Still, no professional money manager has spawned more investment management firms than Robertson.

“Julian was a pioneer and a giant in our industry, respected as much for his abilities as an investor as for the integrity, honesty, loyalty and competitiveness he demonstrated as a leader,” Coleman said in a statement Tuesday. “He made the time to be a true mentor, always leading by example and pushing all of us to become the best versions of ourselves. For that and for his friendship, I am forever grateful. He will be dearly missed, but his impact on me and countless others, as well as the many communities he touched through his philanthropic efforts, will endure.”

Over the years Robertson favored hiring people who were also top athletes, believing that an athlete’s intensity translates into a burning desire to excel in the investment world.

“I once said, ‘Let’s hire one complete nerd and see how he operates,’” Robertson recalled in the 2002 interview. “We never did. It would have been fascinating.”