Billionaire Bruce Kovner might be the richest and most powerful New Yorker you've never heard of. This may be by design. He's private in an "introverted intellectual" kind of way. Before founding the hedge fund Caxton Associates, he was a Harvard PhD candidate who dropped out. He then drove cabs in New York while trying to establish a writing career and studying at Juilliard.
Kovner made his first forays into the business world at 31 and founded Caxton Associates in 1983. He generated more than $12 billion in net gains for investors through the years, and handed over the reins to his company in 2012. His net worth stands at nearly $5 billion.
Kovner might be a businessman, but he's also a scholarly type with a deep passion for writing, knowledge, and the arts. Indeed his hedge fund, Caxton, is named after the first printer of books in English, in the 1400s, and his own collection is said to include obscure illustrated works from Eastern Europe.
The Kovner Foundation, run by Kovner and his wife Suzanne, gives away money primarily to arts and education institutions in New York City.
Kovner is a founder of the School Choice Scholarship Foundation, which awards scholarships to financially disadvantaged elementary school kids in New York City, offering 1,300 scholarships of up to $1,400.
Children in poorly functioning public schools can use these scholarships to attend any private school (that sum will cover nearly all of the tuition at most Catholic schools), with a minimum commitment from the foundation of three years' worth of support.
As Kovner puts it: "We are doing this because of the importance of making choice available to kids who don't have real alternatives. The public school system hasn't provided good opportunities for these kids; so we think the private schools should be given a chance to help out."
Kovner and his wife have also supported charter schools. In recent years, Success Charter Schools and New York Charter Schools Association have received money. Kovner has also supported Foundation for Education Reform with a grant of $200,000 in 2012 and has given $450,000 to Foundation for Excellence in Education between 2012 and 2013.
Kovner is also a trustee emeritus at Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education reform outfit that also has a foundation that authorizes charter schools in Ohio. (Click here to find out more about the Institute). The Thomas B. Fordham Institute received $100,000 from Kovner in 2012.
The couple have also given to Harvard and the Juilliard School. Kovner has chaired Juilliard since 2001 which has seen millions of dollars from Kovner over the years. Additionally, he's a big backer of the American Enterprise Institute, the top conservative think tank in Washington D.C.