How Leon Cooperman Became a Billion Dollar Hedge Fund Titan

When talking about his success, Leon Cooperman claims that it has always been about “the hunt” more than anything else.

The billionaire entrepreneur has practiced what he’s preached throughout his career, no matter how many curveballs have been thrown his way. Cooperman’s drive inevitably got him dubbed “the hardest working man in hedge funds” and made him a sizable fortune. These days, the 78-year-old isn’t done just yet.

Curious where the Omega Advisors founder’s fortune stands today? Here’s what to know about Cooperman’s lengthy journey to billionaire status, the biggest bumps along the way, and his net worth as of 2021.

Early Life and Education

Born in 1943, Leon “Lee” Cooperman grew up in New York’s South Bronx. A first-generation American, he was born to Polish immigrants and raised in a tight-knit Jewish family. His father came to America at the age of 13 and began working as a plumber’s apprentice. According to Cooperman, he was “a workaholic” until the day he did, but also always willing to lend a helping hand to those he cared about. The Wall Street legend says he learned “to be generous, charitable, and kind to others” from this father.

Cooperman went to public school all of his life. After high school, he became the first person in his family to attend college. He enrolled at Hunter College, where he became a member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity. He majored in chemistry but left his undergraduate program after three years. Initially, Cooperman had his sights set on becoming a dentist. However, a little over a week into dental school, he realized it wasn’t for him. He famously said he had to make another “quick decision” about his future. He lost one year’s worth of tuition when he dropped out. After reportedly pleading with enrollment, Cooperman returned to Hunter College, completed his remaining ten credits, earned his Bachelor’s degree, and became a quality-control engineer for Xerox soon after.

There were other good things to come out of Cooperman’s experience at Hunter College. “During my sophomore year, I met my future wife, Toby, in French class. When she became class president, I served as vice president. Our first date was the junior prom. We’ve been married for 50 years,” he once revealed.

In 1965, Cooperman returned to academia once more, enrolling at Columbia Business School. While at the prestigious NYC institution, he earned his MBA in business. That move soon paved the way for him to begin his pursuit of investment research. Following graduation, he immediately joined Goldman, Sachs & Co.

Early Career

When Lee Cooperman worked for Goldman, Sachs & Co., he struggled to make ends meet and was buried deep in debt. The young couple had a six-month-old baby, hefty college loans they were unable to repay, and a bank account that looked much different than it does today. According to Cooperman, he had “a negative net worth” back then, primarily thanks to student loans.

For the first 22 years of his career, Lee worked in the investment research department. He climbed his way to a role as “partner-in-charge,” co-chairman of the Investment Policy Committee, chairman of the Stock Selection Committee. In 1989, he became the CEO of asset management. Institutional Investor magazine recognized him for the “All-America Research Team for portfolio strategy” every year. For nine consecutive years, he ranked first in his division.

The future multi-billionaire was never one to waste his time when it came to big decisions. After retiring from Goldman Sachs, Sachs in 1991, he launched Omega Advisors, Inc. He did so just one day after leaving Goldman Sachs.

Launching Omega Advisors

In 1991, Cooperman launched his investment management business, Omega Advisors, Inc. It was soon a multi-billion dollar hedge fund. However, with success came both fame and infamy for Cooperman. As CEO of his powerful NYC company, people sometimes described him as “volatile.” Many who worked for him and even some of his friends weren’t shy about the fact that working with Cooperman could be difficult. Nevertheless, he continued his ascent to the top of his game.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Cooperman was said to be a workaholic through and through. By 2012, Omega Advisors was worth $10.7 billion, and CNBC declared him an “alpha addict,” crediting his “addiction to investing” for majorly contributing to his success. At the time, Cooperman was reportedly working 12 hour days, working through lunch, and bouncing from meeting, to meeting, to meeting without a break. By 6:30 p.m., he was gearing up for business dinners, consistently home by 11, and doing it all again the next day no matter how many billions he had in the bank.

According to Cooperman, he loved every minute of it. Per CNBC, he once revealed, “I get paid normally a lot of money for basically doing something I enjoy doing. And what I enjoy is to hunt—finding something somebody else doesn’t see, making a bet, and having Mr. Market prove me right.”

“Mr. Market” would continue to make him a very wealthy man many times over.

Walking The Wall Street Walk

Wall Street

Cooperman kept working tirelessly. Doug Kass (founder of Seabreeze Partners Management) once said Lee Cooperman was “the James Brown of hedge funds—the hardest working man in the industry.” And he wasn’t alone in that feeling. Cooperman’s work ethic remained something both feared and revered by his competitors and colleagues. Worth ethic aside, his company had its fair share of financial and legal setbacks along the way.

Despite’s Cooperman’s ongoing success, Omega lost a significant chunk of change over the years. The final time, in 2018, Omega lost 35.2 percent net of fees. The hit didn’t go unnoticed on Wall Street. The incident was the most significant loss the company had endured in its entire hedge fund history. Luckily, Cooperman and his crew were skilled at strategically bouncing back. He admitted the significant loss was a “rough patch,” but said it presented an opportunity to sort all kinks out, including cleaning house here and there. Some called it optimism; others said it was workaholism. Either way, Omega pulled through. The following year, Cooperman put his money where his mouth was when his company made its comeback with a 52.6 percent gain.

Unlike surrounding hedge funds, the billionaire CEO built his reputation for business for “the love of investing” above all else. Michael Lewitt, the editor of The Credit Strategist, once described Cooperman as having no hobbies whatsoever, adding, “Unfortunately one day they’re going to find him slumped over at his desk, and that’s going to be it. He’ll die happy.”

But it turned out Cooperman had other plans.

Closing Omega And Giving Away His Fortune

In 2017, Leon Cooperman was hit with some severe charges. After being accused of insider trading, he claimed “no wrongdoing” repeatedly. However, the highly publicized ordeal wound up costing him a pretty penny in court. 4.9 billion dollars, to be exact.

One year later, Cooperman made headlines once again when he shut down his incredibly profitable hedge fund in the Big Apple. By 2018, Omega Advisors, Inc was worth around $3.2 billion. As noted by The Financial Times, he wanted to convert Omega into “a family office” because he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life “chasing the S&P 500”.

On his career at Omega, Cooperman stated, “The past 23 years at Omega have been years of happiness and good fortune, with a few bumps along the way,” adding “Although I work hard, I must also say that I’ve had more than my share of good luck.”

Eight years before closing shop, Cooperman signed the giving pledge and vowed to give away much of his billionaire fortune. One year after the doors of Omega were closed, the hedge fund titan began pouring much of his fortune into his charitable foundation. When asked about his newfound charitable ways, Cooperman stated he’d rather give it to charity than the government. He also said he’s giving back to others so they can have a chance of living “the American Dream” as he has.

By 2020, the former CEO had given away even more of his billions to charitable causes. Many wondered what was next for Cooperman and how much of his fortune was left to divvy out.

The answer? Plenty of it.

Leon Cooperman’s Net Worth

Lee Cooperman
CNBC Television

As of 2021, Leon Cooperman’s net worth sits at a staggering $2.5 billion.

Not so surprisingly, the almost 80-year-old is still working. But the Omega Family Office’s Chairman and CEO is mainly working for fun. Per Business Insider, the billionaire investor has been dishing out insightful stock advice and forecasts as of late. Cooperman says he’s a “fully-invested bear” these days. Considering how often the hedge fund pioneer has been right in the past, many are taking his latest market predictions and hard-earned wisdom wholeheartedly.

The billionaire entrepreneur has always been a straight shooter. When asked about those “bumps” in the road, Cooperman has stated he wouldn’t change the past because the good, bad, and costly experiences helped him achieve and appreciate his level of success today. Missteps turned to stepping stones more often than not, and ultimately, he knew when to throw in the towel.

No matter what’s changed for Lee Cooperman, the self-made billionaire has never changed his stance on how he made his billions. He continues to stand by his belief that to be successful in this life; it’s important to “love what you do.”

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