Beating the Odds – Susquehanna International – Jeff Yass

Jeff Yass was always a little different from his peers — a brilliant young man taken with poker and horse racing and the power of rational decision-making. He’s used all of it to turn his company — Bala Cynwyd’s stealthy and mysterious Susquehanna International — into one of the world’s most lucrative and powerful financial firms

But Jeff Yass isn’t just some numbers-obsessed geek — no, he honed his idea of the way things work playing poker and betting on the horses in college, then spent a year or so at the gaming tables in Vegas before he returned East, got a seat on the Philly stock exchange, and reportedly became the youngest trader there ever to make a million dollars in a year. Those who know him say he’s just about the most brilliant guy they have ever met.

One perspective of brilliance is to take something complicated and break it down to something quite simple. It would seem that Let’s Make a Deal could not possibly be in need of getting simpler. That’s where Jeff Yass sees something the rest of us don’t. He’s now the brains behind Susquehanna International, an options and equity trading company based in Bala that, on any given day, might trade the financial equivalent of three percent of the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. Billions of dollars’ worth.

Yass learned to make utterly rational choices again and again and again and again, in a game fraught with as much desire and crazy behavior and silliness — with as much raw emotion — as rabbit-ear-wearing contestants on Let’s Make a Deal. That’s Jeff Yass’s brilliance. The world according to Yass runs on figuring out which door to open. While the rest of us might think we know the answer, he asks a question. The question is: What’s Monty Hall thinking?

very well be the biggest privately held options trading company in the world. Over two decades, Jeff Yass and five other founders and many people who work for them — they now employ 1,500, with offices all over the globe — have become very, very rich. Despite the size, secrecy pervades Susquehanna. Stealth is a word that former employees use often in describing the company m.o. A former trader defines it: If you have to choose between fame and fortune, choose fortune. Susquehanna buys and sells options and stocks quickly, in hundreds of thousands of transactions a day, yet it has remained largely below the radar even as it shapes the markets it plays in.

Jeff Yass is silent about his company, because he doesn’t want to let anyone in on what he does, and how. For one thing, those who know him say he is very nervous about personal security. For another, while he seems fine with the notion that his company invests its own money in smarter, more rational, and ultimately more successful ways than anybody else, the particulars of Susquehanna’s methods are nobody else’s business. That’s why the company operates in a nondescript building in the suburbs of Philly instead of on Wall Street. Yass is a self-styled outsider. And he doesn’t want to let anybody in.

Which is a shame, because these days, with our financial markets so shaky, a guy who can carry on and crunch numbers and still make his millions, well, he’s either big trouble or the opposite, someone we can learn something from. Yass is a guy, as a former broker there puts it, “who created Susquehanna out of his own head.” So maybe he does know something we don’t.