Littlefish Legends: #6 Leda Braga

Welcome to the sixth instalment in our new series lauding the brightest minds, greatest achievers and biggest inspirations in the worlds of trading, finance and business. Each month we’ll bring you a true Littlefish hero – someone whose individual achievements and successes have inspired us here at LFX HQ to do what we do.

And who better to feature as a Littlefish Legend than a motorcycle riding, mega successful hedge fund manager who once sang Pharrell Williams’s Happy onstage at a conference in Geneva and is known to the trading industry as “The Queen of the Quants”? Without further ado, it’s time to introduce our sixth Littlefish Legend…. Leda Braga.

#6 Leda Braga

“Does the future hold a world where the systematic approach dominates? I suspect yes.”

Generally considered the most powerful female hedge fund manager in the world, Leda Braga manages $8.8 billion in assets through her hedge fund Systemica Investments. That’s more than any other female hedge fund manager, not to mention more than many funds run by men.

Ask Leda if she’s experienced difficulties in the male-dominated Wall Street world and the answer is an emphatic ‘no’. She’s managed to work her way to the top of the boy’s club that is the finance industry with little concern for what others in her position might have considered barriers.

When asked the secret to her success, Braga modestly puts it down to her firm work ethic. “What can I say?” she shrugs. “Me, personally, I’ve always liked to work.”

Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Braga studied at Imperial College London and graduated with a PhD in Engineering, going on to work as a lecturer and researcher at the university.

She then worked at JP Morgan as a quantitative analyst on the firm’s derivatives research team, where she met Mike Platt, who would go on to become co-founder of capital management firm BlueCrest.

After a stint at JP Morgan spin-off Cygnifi Derivatives, Leda joined BlueCrest (at 34 weeks pregnant, no less) and spent 14 years managing their biggest fund – the computer-driven BlueTrend fund.

Led by Braga, BlueTrend returned 43% in 2008, a year that would go down in history as the worst year ever for hedge funds, and settled at an annualised return rate of 11.8%.

But that wasn’t the pinnacle for ‘Lady Braga’, as colleagues call her. In January she bid farewell to BlueTrend to set up her own hedge fund Systemica Investments (though she remains firm friends with Platt, who is an equity partner in her fund).

And in just a few short months she’s built almost $9 billion in assets for her fund, which specialises in systematic (or algorithmic) trading.

Braga reckons systematic trading is set to take off in the next ten years, largely because it offers the stability of taking the emotion out of trading. “When a trader is forced to sell at a loss, he takes that home with him,” Braga explains. “A black box doesn’t care.”

And any naysayers can’t argue with the fact that Braga has built a hedge fund that Business Insider recently described as “killing it”. (That’s “doing tremendously well” for anyone who’s not that down with the kids).

So where do the motorbike and penchant for Pharrell Williams come into all this? Well, a little-known fact is that until recently, Leda’s vehicle of choice was a Ducati Monster 700 motorbike. And she once sang Williams’s Happy at a conference in front of 80 bemused Systemica Investments employees. “Nobody wanted to sing,” she admits. “But I believe in leading from the front, so despite my lack of talent, I sang.”

The spirit of a true Littlefish hero right there. Bravo, Braga.

“The hedge fund business is filled with very talented people, but talented people retire. What we do, this effort to articulate the investment process through algorithms, through equations, through code, means that the intellectual property exists in its own right. If I disappear tomorrow, it’s fine.”

Littlefish on Leda Braga…

Here’s what LFX CEO Sam Barry thinks of Braga:

Leda Braga is algo trading royalty and frankly, even that could be under-selling it. Ex-BlueCrest, she now runs her own hedge fund purely devoted to systematic trading.

She is likely to take her place as the most powerful hedge fund manager in the world over the next generation.

Image by BlueCrest.