On the Scene
Ken Griffin, left, Bill Strong and David Petraeus./Photo by Shia Kapos 0

How Ken Griffin built Citadel? Like a Navy SEAL

September 28th, 2017

Everything was huge last night at the “Evening of Tribute” for the Navy SEAL Foundation.

Big names filled the room and the stage, where Citadel CEO Ken Griffin and Retired Gen. David Petraeus bantered about world and business issues.

Before the event, Griffin, the honoree, had donated $1 million to the Navy SEALS Foundation. He pledged an additional $500,000, which helped push fundraising for the event to $5 million–making it one of  or the largest charity events of the season in Chicago.

Even the setting was big. It was held in the foyer of the Field Museum of Natural History with two mastodons looking out across the crowd. Griffin recently donated $5.5 million to the museum.

RELATED: How Bill Strong brought Griffin, Petraeus to the stage

You could hear a pin drop as soldiers and family members described how the SEAL Foundation provided financial, medical and emotional support for wounded soldiers and families of those killed in service.

The crowd leaned forward to hear Griffin and Petraeus in a Q&A directed by Bill Strong, the CEO of Chicago-based Longford Capital Management. He also chaired the event. They talked about China, North Korea and cyber-security

Petraeus acknowledged that he worried about the “growing and increasingly diabolical criminal threats in cyberspace,” from ransom-ware attacks to stealing information. And not just in government. “There are only two types of firms in the United States,” he said, “those who have been hacked and know it and those who have been hacked and don’t know it.”

Without missing a beat, Griffin responded, saying, “I’d like to think there’s a third.”

That prompted a burst of laughter from the crowd and Griffin followed up by describing the great lengths Citadel takes to tackle cyber-hacking. Top on the list: some of the firm’s data is stored in locations not connected to the Internet

Griffin and Petraeus have known each other for years and shared their common views on how they approach work. Citadel, said Griffin, operates much the way the SEALS do.

“We know how to hire the extraordinarily good people, create a culture of teamwork and we have a relentless focus on building a competitive advantage,” he said.

Indeed. The Chicago billionaire went on to describe how Citadel worked to achieve its success. In the early days of the company when it was trading bonds, Griffin said, “We answered our phones immediately and we’d say ‘yes or ‘no’ to buy. If you were a big investment bank and you had a hundred clients to call, we’d always be the first to call because we responded immediately. It sounds trivial, but that one insight meant that for every single one of the best trades, Citadel saw it first.”

It was huge.

Among the big names in the crowd: Gov. Bruce Rauner and his wife, Ounce of Prevention Fund President Diana Rauner; real-estate mogul and retired Lieutenant Col. Jennifer Pritzker; GCG Partners co-founder Ron Gidwitz; insurance mogul Patrick Ryan; Driehaus Private Equity Managing Director Eli Boufis; ParkerGale Capital Senior Adviser Dave Chandler; attorneys Adam Hoeflich and Ty Fahner; A Better Chicago founder Liam Krehbiel; and Big Shoulders Fund Executive Director Joshua Hale.



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