Jenny Just got her start as an options trader in Chicago. Never afraid of a challenge, her first major business move was co-founding her own options trading firm in 1997, Peak6 Capital Management. Flash forward to today, this lesser-known billionaire powering a top fintech firm is one of America’s richest self-made women. And her fortune only continues to grow.
The 53-year-old businesswoman and visionary now has her sights set on changing the way women approach business. As Just sees it, you’ve got to be a team player and learn the rules first. After spending most of her career in a male-dominated field, she knows them better than most. Once you’ve learned the rules, Just believes that’s when you can start changing them.
And she’s setting out to change the game for the better.
Growing up, Jenny Just’s mother was an artist and her father was a surgeon. Her parents’ only daughter, she was born the middle child of five children. Looking back, Just says her early surroundings contributed to her being “a real tomboy.” In various interviews, she’s also admitted that having all brothers had a greater impact on her identity than she realized. She credits those relationships with giving her comfortability and natural ease in a male-dominated field.
Like her mother, she was artistic early on and thought she might pursue the arts. Jenny has said that while both of her parents’ career paths were creative in their own right, she followed her mother’s by nature and nurture. However, when Just discovered she was quite good at math, her plans began to change. Her grandfather said, “You’re going to be an architect someday,” and for a while, she thought she would be.
Education and Early Career
After graduating high school, Just enrolled at the University of Michigan and began her path to becoming an architect. However, it only took one physics course for her to realize it wasn’t the right path for her, and she quickly changed her major. Ultimately, that change of plans led to where she is now. Just soon found herself in what she often calls “a very left-brain world” and has remained in financial services for over 30 years.
Just says that while it may be mostly a man’s world she’s built a career in, “the right brain side” of her has consistently helped her team solve complex problems in unique and innovative ways, “especially being a female in a male-dominated industry.”
By her mid-twenties, “The Risk Expert” was garnering a reputation as one of the only females “talking equity options” around Chicago. Being an unusual fit at O’Connor had its advantages. Just says she was most fortunate to be taught by the best in the business before going off on her own. The learning experience only built her self-assuredness and skillset for what was to come.
“I think that helped bring that confidence. So when it was time, when the company actually ended up moving, we said, ‘Well, we’re happy to do this here in Chicago, still, if you want to do this with us.’ And they said, “No, thank you.’ So we went out on our own.”
Getting Peak6 Off The Ground
Jenny Just embarked on her career as a single mother raising a one-year-old, but she never saw that as a deterrent. In 1997, Just and her co-founder, Matt Hulsizer, began PEAK6 Investments with $1.5M in seed capital. Just and Hulsizer are now married.
Peak6 started out as a proprietary options trading firm. Thus far, Jenny has used her massive trading profits to start or purchase over 15 companies through Peak6. While the prominent firm has many brands under its direction, its biggest brands include PEAK6 Capital Management, Apex Fintech Solutions, National Flood Services, and Evil Geniuses.
Per Forbes, her star investment is Apex Fintech Solutions. Currently, Apex handles the back-end trading and technology for fintech including SoFi, Ally, eToro, and WeBull.
As of this moment, Just’s multibillion-dollar financial services and technology firm has never had a losing year. The brilliant businesswoman and her team view themselves as traders, investors, and above all else, curious dreamers. In fact, Just often describes herself as much more curious than “goal oriented,” and says that curiosity has driven most of her biggest business decisions. She isn’t shy about the fact that starting any business comes with some very big risks, but claims risk is a key part of her core business philosophy.
In an interview with The Looking Glass, Jenny stated, “Maybe I’m unusual in this way, I don’t know. When I think about taking a risk, I usually don’t think about it until after the fact. I usually think about getting through the risk to the other side so then the risk gets downplayed in the journey. It’s just something that has to be done in order to get there.”
Empowering Women Through Poker Power
A firm believer in betting big to win big, Just considers risk-taking to be a muscle that needs to be exercised. Like any skill, you have to practice to strengthen it. According to Just, that’s the biggest reason she began Poker Power. The company’s motto? “Be fearless. Bet on yourself.”
PP’s aim is primarily to help women master “mind sports” and learn how to confidently stand firm in the positions they take on. Through virtual power, she’s teaching the art of committing to the hand you’re dealt, then building on it.
Per Bloomberg, Just started her now-famous poker course as a way to recruit more women into money management roles. On the official website, Just says the main reason she started the virtual poker platform was to develop a “launchpad for girls and women to succeed in school, business, and life.”
Today, Poker Power is ready and willing to teach anyone who identifies as female how to play poker and apply it to business. In the process of sharpening their skill sets, it gives them a place to practice strategy, critical thinking, negotiation, communication skills, confidence, capital allocation, and, of course, risk-taking. Whether you spend your days “in the classroom or the boardroom,” Poker Power’s goal is to equip women with what Just believes are the most essential skills needed to succeed at “every table in life.”
Big Risks Reap Big Rewards
In 2021, the women-led company celebrated Women’s History Month by hosting a free-to-play global women’s online poker tournament in conjunction with World College Poker. The business venture is becoming an opportunity for unity, as well as helping women become more business-minded.
In various interviews, Just has revealed that the game-oriented “launchpad” wasn’t so well received by some of her colleagues, but she’s gotten used to people not getting her ideas. Still, she runs with them and goes with her gut, and it continues paying off. According to one 2019 study, hedge fund managers who are skilled at poker are, on average, also more successful in business. So she might be onto something big.
“I think I have creative solutions to problems that people aren’t otherwise looking at because I come from a different perspective. So when I’m constantly surrounded by men, my ideas look crazy,” says Just. No matter what her colleagues think, her bank account suggests that her business tactics and ideas are insanely sharp.
Jenny Just’s Net Worth
Currently, Jenny Just’s estimated net worth is a staggering $1.5 billion. This makes her one of the world’s fewer than two dozen female self-made billionaires. Most frequently described as “the most successful business woman you’ve never heard of,” she may quietly become even richer very soon. In the wake of 2020, her fintech firms have been doing better than ever. Per Forbes, Apex Fintech Solutions is slated to go public via a SPAC merger. As of now, the company is valued at about $4.7 billion.
These days, Just proudly dubs herself “a business transformer and mom of four.” While it certainly helps to have billions of dollars to back her up, she continues betting on herself no matter the cost, taking risks all along the way, and learning as she goes.
Just admits that the deck is often stacked against women, making their approach to business that much more important to strengthen. Females in business, she says, were typically not brought up being taught to seize their destinies the same way men were. The impact of that is everywhere. Continuing to be a fierce advocate for gender equity, Just continues leading initiatives in and outside of her company, helping all women gain equal footing in the realms of fintech and entrepreneurship.
“The opportunity for the female to step in and take ownership falls a lot on her plate. But as she’s in that process, because it’s a different process than it is for men. Because she doesn’t do it growing up necessarily because she doesn’t naturally, inherently or in the environment process, play, learn in this competitive way, she has to figure out how to build those skills.”