Leon Cooperman // Omega Advisors

There is increasing alarm at the rising trend of anti-Semitism among the elite universities in America. A growing number of blatantly anti-Semitic groups have been given free rein by these colleges, and many Jewish students have expressed their fear about simply going to class. 
While of course this has been met with widespread outrage from many quarters, understandably some of those opinions matter more to the universities than others—such as their largest supporters. 
Billionaire Leon Cooperman, who has given over $50 million to Columbia University in the past, has now become an outspoken critic of the university, pulling all funding in response to the unchecked anti-Semitism on campus. 
Leon (Lazer) Cooperman is a Wall Street legend. Cooperman built up Goldman Sachs’ asset management division, GSAM, in his quarter-century with the investment bank. He founded Omega Advisors in 1991, a hedge fund known for strong performance; he shut down the fund at the end of 2018. In 2019 and 2020, Cooperman began shifting more of his assets into his charitable foundation. He plans to give most of his fortune away.
Leon still works a full day analyzing the market. We spoke about his career, his investment advice and what he told the president of Columbia University during their phone call.  Enjoy!


My father came to America from Warsaw, Poland, at the age of 12 as a plumber’s apprentice. He had no real education. I wish I would’ve delved more into my parents’ background before they died. The only person who knew more about them than me was my older brother, but he died unexpectedly two years ago. I’m very much devoid of historical knowledge of my family.
“My father always worked very hard. When he grew up, he continued to work as a plumber in the Bronx, where I was born and raised. He was a good-natured person, always doing someone a favor that he shouldn’t be doing, which meant that he overextended himself. He was retired due to a heart disability, and he died after suffering a heart attack while carrying a sink up a four-story building for someone else.
“As a family, we kept kosher, but we weren’t shomer Shabbos. I went to public school in the South Bronx. I would say I was entrepreneurial as a kid. I worked in a tire shop, fixing flats, and in a fruit store, bagging fruit.
“I had an old-fashioned upbringing. We were middle class, and if I wanted money, I had to work for it. My father didn’t have much surplus money to give me, so I worked for what I wanted.
“I followed the advice of Horace Greeley and went West as a young man—to Hunter College, now called Lehman College in the West Bronx. People typically ask me to what I attribute my success. I say, hard work, luck and intuition. Hard work and luck do not require much explanation, but intuition does. I’ll explain. In the mid-’60s, if you completed your major or minor in three years, you could count your first degree in medical or dental schools towards your fourth year of college and get a separate degree.
“In the summer of 1963, I went to the University of Pennsylvania for undergraduate school and took physical chemistry, which was the last course of my major. Then I enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania School of Dentistry. After eight days, I started to wonder if I was pushing myself in the direction I wanted to commit to.
“It was a very traumatic time in my life. I had paid tuition and room and board for a year, and my father would walk around telling people his son was a dentist. I had to go to the dean of the dental school and ask him if I could go back to undergraduate school and finish my fourth year. He guilt-tripped me, questioning how I could decide that after only eight days. I told him that I wasn’t making a decision, I only wanted to go back and make the decision with another year under my belt. He said to me, ‘You’re going to lose the year’s worth of money you put into school. You also deprived another applicant of dental education.’

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