Fortune Magazine once dubbed [John] Arnold “one of the least-known billionaires in the US.” His profile in the public consciousness is almost nonexistent, and he rarely gives interviews. But among hedge funders and energy traders, Arnold is a legend. John D’Agostino, former head of strategy of the New York Mercantile Exchange, says that in Arnold’s heyday, people in the industry would discuss him in “hushed and reverent tones.” In 2006, Centaurus reportedly saw returns of over 300 percent; the next year Arnold became the youngest billionaire in the country. “If Arnold decided he wanted to beat hunger,” D’Agostino says, “I wouldn’t want to bet on hunger.”
For all the swagger of that description, Arnold himself has virtually none. He is universally described as quiet and introspective. At Enron, a company famous for its brash, testosterone-laced cowboy culture, the perennially boyish-looking trader was reportedly so soft-spoken that his colleagues had to gather in close to hear him at restaurants. “People would read into it, and they would say he’s just being cagey,” D’Agostino says. “And then, after a couple of years, people were like, oh, no, he’s actually like that.”
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