The hedge-fund founder Jason Karp found more meaning in his career after leaving Wall Street behind. He says others in finance will follow.
- Jason Karp left the hedge-fund world in 2018 to go fully in on his healthy-foods business.
- He tells Insider that top hedge-fund founders have since called to pick his brain on leaving.
- “They want more purpose and … they can’t admit it out loud because they’re billionaires.”
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
For Jason Karp, working in finance was rewarding. He made millions, won awards, and started a business that employed dozens of people.
But in 2018, after a couple of tough years at his hedge fund. Tourbillon, he left the only industry he’d ever worked in to dive into a space that he now sees is his true passion: healthy foods.
When he closed Tourbillon, he wrote a manifesto of sorts in the form of a goodbye letter to investors, focusing, in part, on his newfound passion for healthy eating. “I believe we are at an inflection point of a food and product revolution as people now recognize that the American approach to diet and disease has failed abysmally,” he wrote in the widely read letter.
Karp’s new company, HumanCo, is geared toward the overall mission to “live optimally as human beings,” he previously told Insider, something he has been passionate about since he was diagnosed with autoimmune diseases early in his career, a topic he discussed in the letter to investors.
This harrowing journey instilled in me a life-long passion of focusing on nutrition and how it affects the health and wellness of humanity. As I was forced to scrutinize all aspects of food and the food industry – what was in the food, whether it came from a farm or a profiteering corporation, what kinds of pesticides, engineering and “technology” were used to make it shelf-stable, taste great, and look appealing – I learned there was a huge knowledge gap. Amazingly, I find there is no human activity where there is a greater disconnect between knowledge and frequency of use than eating and human nutrition.
The career move to healthy foods has been a good one so far for the Wharton grad, as Karp’s conglomerate has rolled out new products and partnered with the actress Scarlett Johansson on new items.
In a recent interview with Insider, Karp said his success has led to calls from the best of the best of his old industry – “titans who were way more successful than I was” – who want to pick his brain on what it was like to leave finance behind.
“They asked me confidentially, ‘How does it feel? I’m sort of thinking about it,'” he said.
“There’s a lot of high-profile hedge-fund managers who will never admit this publicly because they have too big of a business, but they want more purpose, and they’re feeling like they can’t admit it out loud because they’re billionaires.”
Karp said he’s gotten at least five calls like this, and “a common thread I’ve observed with some of these very, very high-performing managers is that they’re looking for a way to find more meaning in what they do.”
Burnout in finance, especially during the pandemic, is far from uncommon, of course. Investment banks and private-equity firms have resorted to massive bonuses and Peloton giveaways to keep young talent who are working around-the-clock.
While it’s rarer to see those at the top of the industry, who have dedicated their careers to making it to that point, in the same boat, the hedge-fund space has had plenty of examples over the past couple of years.
David Tepper, the billionaire founder of Appaloosa Management, has returned most outside capital to focus on his NFL team, the Carolina Panthers. Names like Leon Cooperman, Stephen Mandel Jr., and John Paulson are all out or nearly out of the game.
Traditionally these ultrawealthy individuals – almost always men – try to find meaning through politics, with massive donations and elaborate campaigns. Robert Mercer, a longtime executive at the quant giant Renaissance Technologies, backed the right-wing news organization Breitbart and other Republican causes for years. The Renaissance founder Jim Simons and fellow hedge-fund billionaire George Soros have been some of the Democratic Party’s biggest donors for years. David Stemerman closed his hedge fund, Conatus Capital, to run for governor in the state of Connecticut, losing in the 2018 Republican primary.
Others, like the ValueAct Capital cofounder Jeffrey Ubben, have stayed in finance but shifted focus. Ubben is reportedly aiming to raise up to $8 billion for Inclusive Capital Partners, a fund he founded last summer that focuses on environmentally and socially conscious investing, according to Reuters.
Looking around for those other opportunities can be risky: Karp said there’s a “real fear” among many high up in finance that even talking about changing careers will instantly torpedo their current one. But he hopes his own transition to the food world will provide a clear example for others.
“I want other high performers to acknowledge that it’s OK if you’re depressed but you’re very rich,” he said. “It’s OK if you’re at a point in your life where you’re not finding meaning anymore.”