Hedging Your Bets

Summer 2017

George Sykes
George Sykes founded GS Gamma Advisors.

Back when George Sykes ’91 entered Johns Hopkins University as a self-described computer guy, financial instruments such as mortgage-backed securities and derivatives didn’t exist. So he never could have predicted his last 25 years riding the nation’s careening financial markets.

Still, Sykes, who studied applied mathematics and economics in the late 1980s, used his Johns Hopkins education to chart a path on Wall Street that today has him atop the hedge fund heap—with his GS Gamma fund named by Hedge Fund Intelligence as one of the nation’s best-performing risk-adjusted funds for a trailing 10-year period.

Using a quant-based approach—tapping mathematical and statistical methods to quantify risk—Sykes and partners have more than survived in a business that normally sees hedge funds expire in three to five years. To boot, the managers deftly weathered the financial storm of 2007–08, posting results that landed his fund, GS Gamma, in Barron’s as one of the top 20 performing hedge funds in the world two years in a row. “We’ve had a very steady performance, and I’m proud of that. We were even up in 2008,” he says.

At Johns Hopkins, Sykes explored many subjects, including contemporary American letters and comparative religion. After a Wall Street internship following his junior year, he was offered a job as an analyst in an investment bank (provided he was willing to graduate early and start in January) as well as a job with IBM in large, mainframe computers. “If I had taken the job in mainframes, I would have been the same college graduate, but my career would have turned out very, very differently,” Sykes says.

In the mid-1990s, Sykes and a few colleagues saw an opportunity to capitalize on a risk-averse climate on Wall Street following the bond-market washout in 1994. They struck out to form a broker-dealer firm called Links Securities. Working out of a small, rented Madison Avenue office, they were staffed with a few Bloomberg terminals, card tables, and telephones. That venture grew, attracting the attention—and the money—of the Guggenheim family, wealthy philanthropists who made their fortune in mining. Sykes went on to co-found and manage mortgage trading for Guggenheim Securities, where he stayed until launching GS Gamma in 2004 with Guggenheim seed capital.

Today, Sykes sits on the Whiting School Advisory Board, co-chairs the school’s Rising to the Challenge Committee, and interviews promising high school applicants. He and his wife, Elsa, have established the Charles Renn Faculty Scholar in honor of Elsa’s grandfather, Charles Renn, a noted Johns Hopkins professor who worked alongside Abel Wolman on critical water quality issues.

The couple has six children, ages 4 to 15. Do any plan to become Blue Jays? Sykes, always the quant guy, says, “Well, the statistics now show about one in 10 promising students gains admission, so that puts the hypothetical odds at about, what, just below 50-50?”