High-risk opportunities with big-time payouts: That’s how John Arnold got rich as an investor, and now he’s using that same strategy to give his money away.
John and Laura Arnold may not be headline-grabbing philanthropists who’ve become household names like Bill and Melinda Gates or George Soros, but the couple is creating major impacts with their charitable giving by treating every new philanthropic venture the way John once treated his bets on Wall Street: Watching for risky opportunities that offer an outsized payoff.
In 2016 alone, according to filings, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation held $2 billion in assets and awarded grants worth $176.8 million. The result has been a philanthropic empire that, while sometimes stoking controversy, has made a clear and tangible impact on the sectors of society it has targeted.
John Arnold started his career as an oil analyst at the now-defunct Enron Corporation, where he eventually became a top trader on the company’s Natural Gas Desk. When Enron collapsed in 2002, Arnold launched his own hedge fund, Centaurus Financial, growing it and his own net worth above $1 billion. That success came thanks to some risky bets along the way.
In 2006, for example, Arnold lined up his hedge fund on a high-risk position in the energy markets opposite another hedge fund. Arnold won, and the result was an overall portfolio return for investors of an astonishing 317 percent.
One year later, John Arnold was the world’s youngest billionaire.