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John Seo was raised in Dallas, the son of a professor at Southern Methodist University. One day when he was 14, he stood on the steps of that university’s library, awed by its massive columns.

“I realized right then that I had been benefiting from that library all my life,” he says. “I was determined that day that no matter where I went to school, I was going to give back to my alma mater.”

Seo–who earned a degree in physics from MIT in 1988–recently kept his promise, making a major gift to the Institute to support student leadership.

“The best outcome for my gift is that it helps produce more future leaders from MIT,” he says. “I have faith that every leader who emerges from the Institute will have a significant impact on the world.”

After MIT, Seo earned a PhD in biophysics from Harvard. Then, following in the footsteps of his father, an economist, he gravitated toward investment management. That career began at O’Connor and Associates at the Chicago Board of Trade, where he traded exotic derivatives. He joined Donaldson, Lufkin, and Jenrette as a senior trader in 1995 before spending a year at the Harvard Management Company, managing a portion of Harvard University’s endowment. Next, he became a trader at Lehman Brothers, where he specialized in catastrophe bonds. Three years later, he and his brother Nelson launched Fermat Capital Management, now the largest investment manager of catastrophe bonds in the world.

Seo and his wife, Stella, who trained as a concert pianist at Juilliard, have five children. Seo enjoys fishing, travel, and socializing with family members who live nearby: his parents; brothers Nelson ‘90, Scott ‘92, and Michael; and seven nieces and nephews.

With his gift to MIT, Seo hopes to help students avoid the problems that he has seen befall so many people with good ideas.

“Brains without leadership skills carry you only so far,” he says. “The typical MIT grad has technical ability at levels well beyond the threshold required to succeed. But it’s not so obvious that they’re always that much over the threshold in leadership abilities. If this gift makes it possible for just one more leader to emerge from MIT than would otherwise have been the case, that would be enough for me.”

For giving information, contact Rob Scott: 617-253-3394;
rscott@mit.edu. Or visit giving.mit.edu.

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Credit: Ed Quinn

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