Kovner is the founder of Caxton Associates, a hedge fund with more than $16 billion under management. He's one of the world's most powerful—and secretive—hedge fund moguls.
Kovner was born in Brooklyn and raised in the San Fernando Valley, where his father was a mechanical engineer and his mother a homemaker. (She later committed suicide when Bruce was a student at Harvard.) Kovner didn't appear destined for the world of high finance as a kid: As an undergrad, he studied politics and later enrolled in a PhD program. When he couldn't complete his thesis, he dropped out, moving from Cambridge to New York City to study piano and harmony at the Julliard School; he also occasionally wrote articles for magazines like Commentary. (He drove a cab in his spare time to pay the bills.) Kovner borrowed against his MasterCard to place his first trade, losing the $3,000 he wagered on soybean futures because he failed to hedge his bets. He went on to hone his trading skills under Michael Marcus at Commodities Corp. before launching his own fund, Caxton, in 1983.
Like George Soros, Kovner takes a global, top-down view of the investment universe at Caxton, and then uses currencies and stock and bond futures to place his bets on trends. But while his fund has earned him—and many of his investors—a fortune, he may be just as well known around town for his political activities. Unlike Soros, Kovner is a staunch Republican: He's a longstanding supporter of George W. Bush, a close personal friend of Dick Cheney, and a major Republican fundraiser. Formerly the chair of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, Kovner has supported a handful of Republicans in recent elections. (One of his few money-losing bets was his support for Rudy Giuliani's 2008 presidential campaign.) Kovner's political agenda extends to the media, too. Along with Michael Steinhardt, he's one of the primary backers of the New York Sun, Seth Lipsky's conservative daily newspaper.
Kovner is worth $3.5 billion, according to Forbes. He pulled in an estimated $715 million in 2006, according to Trader Monthly, which estimated his 2007 income at a much more modest $150-$200 million.
Kovner is one of Julliard's biggest donors as well as chairman of its board. In 2006, he donated an enormous collection of prized works to the school, including a handwritten opera score by Mozart. He's also given generously to other institutions affiliated with Lincoln Center and is a major supporter of the redevelopment plans for Alice Tully Hall. Other beneficiaries of his millions include the National Theatre of London and the Israel Philharmonic.
Music remains a passion for Kovner: An accomplished pianist, he reportedly sits down at his grand piano every evening at midnight. He's also a collector of rare books and possesses what is believed to be one of the most expensive collections in the city. His firm, Caxton Associates, is named after the first printer of English-language books.
Kovner married Sarah Peter in 1973. They divorced in 1998 and have three kids: Rachel Kovner, a whiz kid who attended Harvard and Stanford Law and then clerked for Justice Scalia; Katherine Kovner, a Brown grad and indie theater director; and Jacob Kovner, a student at NYU. After reported flings with opera diva Renée Fleming and society fixture Paula del Rio, Kovner tied the knot with Susan Fairchild in February 2007.
Kovner resides in a Fifth Avenue townhouse that he purchased for $17.5 million in 1999; an exacting, $10 million renovation over the course of several years has converted the manse into a single-family residence. The home features a two-story master bedroom, more than a dozen baths, a book vault, and a media room that is entirely soundproof. The secretive billionaire is also believed to have installed a lead-lined "safe room" on the fourth floor of his townhouse that's capable of protecting Kovner in the event of a dirty bomb or chemical weapons attack. Kovner also owns a massive—and very well-secured—compound in Dutchess County, and an oceanfront estate in Carpinteria, Calif. complete with polo field that he purchased for $83.5 million.