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In the 1986 photograph in the local newspaper, teenager Ken Griffin sits closest to the camera, typing away on a keyboard. The “lanky bespectacled youth,” as the accompanying article described him, belonged to Boca Raton Community High School’s “crack computer team.” Being on Boca’s computer team carried a particular local status: The IBM personal computer was born just five years earlier at the company’s massive Boca Raton campus.

The Sun Sentinel article called Griffin and his teammates “perennial honor roll students and math hotshots.” Griffin was president of the math club. He also had his own one-person, fledgling mail-order company, selling education software — some of which he created.

But Griffin told the reporter that computers wouldn’t be his life’s work. He predicted the job market for programmers would contract in the next decade. He wanted to be a businessman or lawyer because both were people-oriented.

“He was an awesome kid,” says Becky Cray, a retired Boca High teacher who led the computer department when Griffin was on the team. “He was always willing to help the kids. A great business sense. Great leadership skills. An all-around great kid. I knew he was going to be something special, but I never knew he was going to be a multi-billionaire.”

A year after the article was published, Griffin was a student at Harvard University, where despite a ban on students running businesses from campus, he put a satellite dish on the roof of his dorm so he could get real-time stock quotes. By 1990, he had co-founded Citadel, a hedge fund that today has $57 billion in assets. He eventually based the company in Chicago along with Citadel Securities, a second firm he founded in 2002, that has become a market-making company handling one in every five trades in the United States.

Jump forward to 2022: The Boca boy who made good — becoming Illinois’ richest person — announced in 2022 he was moving his family and the firms’ headquarters to Miami, where he became Florida’s richest person. Many billionaires have a first or second home here, but Griffin differed in that his move also brings scores of Citadel employees with him, creating their own wave of economic impact on South Florida. Griffin has become one of the private sector’s most prominent proselytizers for relocating to Florida. Few things carry the imprimatur of a man with a $31.5-billion net worth voting with his feet in favor of Florida.

That was evident in November, when Griffin appeared as the headliner at a sold-out Economic Club of Miami event alongside Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, still relishing the considerable prize the city has landed: “I can’t tell you the number of places that I go around the world where people say, ‘I cannot believe Citadel is in Miami,’ ’’ Suarez told the audience. “You could have chosen anywhere in the world. You chose to be here. We’re incredibly grateful.”

Florida homecoming

Griffin’s Florida story begins when his father, a General Electric engineer, and mother relocated to Florida to work in the space program. Griffin was born in Daytona Beach in 1968. His family connection to the space program remains an inspirational touchpoint for Griffin, telling the Miami audience that the Apollo moon landings were some “of the greatest moments in the history of humanity” that proved “we can do anything as a country.”

When Apollo wound down, the family relocated to Wisconsin, then back to Florida when Griffin’s father went into management at a concrete tile company. Griffin attended middle and high school in Boca Raton. He played soccer, including against a number of Miami schools — “often a pretty humbling experience” he told the Miami crowd. He was active in clubs and appeared in the local press several times.

Then came Harvard. His wealthy grandmother (a formidable Illinois businesswoman in her own right whom Griffin gives much credit for his success) “was my scholarship program to Harvard.” Griffin later donated $150 million to Harvard to fund need-based scholarships; at the time it was the largest gift to the university in its history. (Griffin is estimated to have given more than $1.5 billion to philanthropic causes.)

For approximately 30 years, Griffin based Citadel in Chicago, where he grew it and his profile. He donated $600 million in the city, battled with fellow billionaire Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, especially over Pritzker’s handling of Illinois crime, and was a major donor to Republican candidates. He chaffed at what he calls “woke ideology” in the Chicago schools, citing an incident when his son was reprimanded for telling an Asian student that the student was good at math, a comment the teacher considered stereotyping, and concerns that American history lessons left out the role the U.S. has played in advancing the concepts of freedom and individual rights at home and abroad.

A self-described centrist, Griffin also worked closely with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on crime solutions and education. In 2018, Griffin donated $10 million to the University of Chicago Crime Lab for what was called a transformative initiative to use data analysis, community input and tech to make Chicago safer. “No child, anywhere, should be afraid to walk to school or play outside. A safer Chicago attracts more families and better jobs and provides a better quality of life for all,” Griffin advocated at the time.

Crime continued to concern Griffin after employees were mugged going to Citadel’s office and a colleague was stabbed. “We were making real progress,” Griffin told his Miami audience, in improving police dispatching and training them to handle tense moments. But then Pritzker in 2022 signed the state Safe-T Act eliminating cash bail and making other controversial changes. Now, Griffin says, Chicago is “engulfed in anarchy. It’s terrifying.”

In Florida, Griffin says, he found a “pro get-it-done mindset” that showed its worth in March 2020. As pandemic lockdowns increased nationally, Griffin booked the Four Seasons Palm Beach to keep Citadel’s trading going. The town treated it as private residence — since Griffin booked the whole hotel — where people could live and work in the trading bubble without running afoul of state and local lockdown rules. The rapid government approval and contractor installations allowed “several thousand servers” in the Four Seasons ballroom to create “a trading floor big enough to run the entire U.S. equities market in five days.” Griffin added, “It would take months to do this in a Northern city.”

Suarez, apprised that Griffin was interested in moving his firms to Florida, journeyed to Chicago for a meet-and-greet. Within 10 minutes of meeting, Suarez had Google Maps open and was showing him sites where he could put Citadel, Griffin recounted. In June, Griffin announced Citadel and Citadel Securities would move to Miami, bringing potentially 1,500 jobs.

Suarez told the audience at the Economic Club event in Miami that Griffin’s move proved “you didn’t have to be necessarily in Chicago or New York to be successful.” Responding Griffin added, “I’m going to flip it around. I’m going to actually say the people of the state of Florida proved you can not only run a world-class trading operation here in South Florida, but you could build it in five days.”

In Florida, where he’s been a generous backer of Gov. Ron DeSantis — donating $6 million to the governor — the draw for Citadel, Griffin says, wasn’t low taxes but the quality of services for taxes paid.

“People want to know that when they pay taxes to the government — whether that’s income tax or property tax or others — that they’re getting value for the money they paid. Florida ranks remarkably high in that. I think that’s a much more powerful draw than just low taxes,” Griffin told the Miami audience, “because when you’ve got great schools, you’ve got a great environment, your streets are safe and clean, you’ve got a place where people want to live and call home.”

The Citadel effect

Griffin’s relocation, given Citadel’s size and his prominence, has implications commercially, politically and philanthropically.

Commercially, Citadel and the other financial newcomers already have shifted the Miami downtown office market dynamic. Historically, downtown was a musical-chairs game of tenants moving within the market — nominal growth, no large headquarters and what big national names did come took small square footage, often for Latin America-focused offices. Now, market demand has spiked from the new firms and the service providers that followed, such as law firms Kirkland & Ellis — the world’s largest — Sidley Austin, Winston & Strawn and Quinn Emanuel, which hired Mayor Suarez.

Early beneficiaries of the influx are Miami developers OKO Group and Cain International and their 830 Brickell office tower, a new 640,000-sq.-ft. building. Citadel took six of the building’s 55 floors. Andrew Trench, executive director at real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, who represents the building, says that in 2019 he projected the building would be half leased at completion at $65 to $70 per square foot. Instead, it will be fully leased at more than $100 per square foot. “They happened to be positioned perfectly for the migration coming down,” Trench says. Rents have jumped at other buildings, too. “It’s been a great story for Miami. It felt like before we were trying to speak it into existence. It’s really happening. It has not slowed down,” Trench says. “I’ve never signed more NDAs in my life than in the last two years.”

Griffin himself, meanwhile, plans a billion-dollar office tower to be built by Chicago-based Sterling Bay on a waterfront Brickell site he purchased for $363 million. The tower will include a marina and a helipad, and Griffin says he will personally pitch major U.S. companies like Apple as potential tenants for the tower, which could take at least five years to build.

Politically, Griffin gave $60 million to Republican candidates in the recent election cycle, ranking him as the nation’s third-largest private donor, according to Politico. “It’s not the place that I want to be,” he told the Miami audience about being involved in politics. “It represents the reality that I’ve seen in 20 some years of charitable giving undermined by incredibly poor policies. When you watch that play out, it is like soul crushing.”

Meanwhile, Florida charities and advocates look forward to his largesse, and he’s already providing substantial support to a range of initiatives. “Ken’s action-oriented approach to philanthropy, commitment to improving education and strengthening communities is very much aligned with our mission at United Way Miami,” says United Way Miami President and CEO Symeria Hudson, whose 2022 Mayor’s Ball was sponsored by Citadel.

In Florida, Griffin gave $20 million for the acclaimed renovation and expansion of the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach in 2018. A year later, he gave $5 million for Miami Connected, an effort to bring no-cost broadband, digital skills training and tech job opportunities to the one-in-five Miami-Dade families not connected. In 2021, he gave $5 million to the Underline linear park project in Miami. Education, he says, is a core cause. “I truly believe that education is the on-ramp to the American dream, and, unfortunately, in too many parts of our country, there’s too many potholes in the on-ramp today,” he says.

The presence of Griffin and other multi-billionaires bodes well for charities here but also is an endorsement of the area’s arts, culture and business sophistication. “We love the evangelizing Ken Griffin is doing,” says Greenberg Traurig law firm shareholder Jaret Davis. “I think you’re seeing a great megalopolis come to life in America. I think in five years you’re going to be amazed by what this megalopolis produces.”

Griffin’s Empire

Outside of Florida, Ken Griffin paid $122 million for a mansion in London, $59 million for a condo in Chicago and $238 million for a penthouse in New York.

In Florida, beginning in 2012, he eventually made a series of Palm Beach purchases that total $450 million and 20 acres.


  • He’s created an ocean-to-intracoastal estate, the island’s largest, where he’s building his mother a 17,277-sq.-ft. main house and a guest house, plus gardens, on Billionaire’s Row.
  • His Citadel hedge fund also leases space in the former Neiman Marcus building on Worth Avenue for employees who live on the island.


  • Griffin paid $363 million in April for 2.5 acres of Biscayne Bay waterfront, where he plans a $1-billion office headquarters tower, helipad, marina and restaurants. He says he will personally recruit tenants for the space his firm doesn’t occupy.
  • He also purchased for $286.5 million a nearby building at 1221 Brickell Ave.
  • He’s leased 95,000 square feet at an office tower nearing completion, 830 Brickell.
  • Citadel also has leased at the Southeast Financial Center.

On the residential side:

  • Griffin set a record for a Miami-Dade single-family home when he paid $106.9 million for philanthropist Adrienne Arsht’s two bayfront houses on 4.2 acres sitting 15 feet above sea level on a bluff on Brickell in Coconut Grove. Combined, the houses have eight bedrooms and another four in apartments over garages. The oldest of the two homes dates to 1913.
  • Griffin, according to reports, has spent about $169 million on properties on Star Island.

Influx from Wall Street

Citadel and Citadel Securities’ relocation to South Florida serves as an exclamation point to what’s been growing for years in the region, in hedge funds, private equity and other high finance, from Miami to Palm Beach, say Greenberg Traurig shareholders Jaret Davis in Miami and Bruce March in Fort Lauderdale, who work with hedge funds and private equity and finance firms. “What Ken has done is validate what has gone on more quietly,” March says.

Counting Citadel, South Florida is the headquarters for six of the largest hedge fund managers globally. At least another 10 have a South Florida office.

While Griffin was building his empire in Chicago, South Florida’s financial world was broadening. Major private equity firms, homegrown or transplanted, grew here along with international banking and investing. Florida even had a hedge-fund industry of its own, albeit tiny compared to the firms centered around Greenwich, Conn., New York and other financial capitals.

In 2005, Florida Trend reported approximately 150 hedge funds here in some form. By today’s standards, they were modest. Boston Red Sox owner John Henry’s Boca Raton management company was one of the largest Florida-based firms, ranking 87th nationally with $3 billion in assets. The take-home for managers, relatively speaking, was modest, too. Henry ranked 20th on Institutional Investor’s 2002 list of the highest-earning hedge fund managers with $40 million. (In comparison, Griffin’s 2021 earnings were $2.5 billion, good enough for third among hedge fund managers nationally.)

Kelly Smallridge, CEO of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, aimed for a bigger industry presence. In 2013, nine years before Mayor Francis Suarez’s famed “How can I help?” response to a California venture capitalist’s tweet suggesting that Silicon Valley move to Miami, Smallridge mailed letters to 30 Manhattan hedge funds suggesting they locate in Palm Beach County. The New York Post and CNBC picked up the story. Smallridge received a deluge of interest. Soon, a single office building in West Palm Beach had four hedge fund offices.

Big names in finance relocated here. Billionaire and activist hedge fund manager Edward Lampert — once Connecticut’s richest person and owner of Sears — moved to Miami. Appaloosa Management hedge fund founder David Tepper, New Jersey’s richest person, followed in 2015. Four years later, Carl Icahn announced his firm would move to Miami.

The influx continued. Elliott Management relocated to West Palm Beach from New York. In 2021, Goldman Sachs opened a satellite office in West Palm Beach. Thoma Bravo announced a new Miami office.

COVID-19 proved a migration accelerant as Northerners came to Florida to ride out the pandemic — a “forced experiment of living in South Florida,” says Andrew Trench, executive director at real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. Trench says the temporary transplants discovered Florida’s quality of life, relished the time outdoors with family and the short — relative to New York — commutes, tax savings and lower rents.