Jonathan Laster Lerner, 62, passed away from a rare form of cancer on Jan. 13 in Chicago, IL.
At 6-feet tall and built like a tank, he enjoyed a thirty-five-year career as a commodities trader. Priding himself on never having been shoved out of the way or muffled during the harangues at each closing bell, he achieved heights few people could match on the trading floor.
The son of immigrants, Jonathan was born in Port Washington on May 13, 1955 to Reby Lerner, a housewife, and Joseph Lerner, a veteran of World War II, who served in the Third Infantry Division, and owner of The Card Shop in Port Washington. The eldest of three brothers, he attended Paul Schreiber High School, where he graduated with honors, in 1972.
He attended Wesleyan University, working as a runner at the New York Stock Exchange during the summer, and graduating with a degree in history and economics. He went on to the distinguished Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania where he obtained an MBA in finance, in 1978.
Observed by a headhunter for his outstanding expertise in finance, the red-haired, Jewish kid from Long Island, with a year’s worth of experience, joined the gold-trading desk at the largest, sovereign-wealth fund in the world, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA).
ADIA was an education in itself—but not in a good way. Once Jonathan opened the books, he soon saw how the company lost countless millions of dollars each year.
Much of the money was unaccounted for, either by expat traders who showed up disoriented and drunk, or by financially illiterate department heads, chosen by virtue of how many goats and camels their grandfathers had owned before they discovered oil.
At one investment meeting, Jonathan encapsulated the experience of seeing how incompetently and corruptly the company was run by saying, “Please, my advice is to stop trading, and stop trading now. You would be a lot better off.”
At AIDA, he learned an important lesson: it’s better to work for yourself.
Using the money he had saved up from two-years at AIDA, Jonathan moved back to the US upon the completion of his contract.
In 1985, he eloped to New York with the woman of his dreams, Yupin Kongmanee, a native of Thailand. With her remarkable intelligence and full support, he embarked on a highly risky, but eventually successful career as an independent commodities trader in Chicago.
He later went to the London-based LIFFE exchange, where he became known as the “sceptic” (cockney slang for ‘American’). One of the few Americans on the trading floor, he managed, unlike others, to survive the ups and downs of the Lawson Boom and Lawson Bust.
Jonathan was proud of working alongside those who began their careers from scratch— like himself. He loved how each East Londoner came to work in a suit and tie and spoke in an accent very few Americans could understand. They shouted jokes at each other and went to the pub for a drink or two before repeating the same routine the next day.
Years later, the Lerners settled back in Chicago. Jonathan switched from trading options to Live Cattle Futures, and relished his time on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. But having children made him happier than anything else. First, son James, now a successful Data Scientist based in Silicon Valley, and then son George. Finally, his daughter, Ploi, a food engineer at Pepsi, who oversees the release of the spiciest chips in the Fritos lineup.
Humble, with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, Jonathan went on to study his wife’s religion, Buddhism, before guiding a number of important temple projects to completion in Yupin’s hometown of Udon Thani. The Thai Forest Tradition, thrives, in part, due to his efforts in the 1990s to discourage black market loggers threatening Thailand’s dwindling teak preserves near the Lao border.
In total, Jonathan and Yupin created nine homes together. Watching black-and-white films and British comedies with their kids was a favorite family activity. The couple traveled widely, enjoyed gardening, and Jonathan adored coming home to the scent of his wife’s Thai cooking. A dedicated polyglot, with six languages under his belt, Jonathan played both the oboe and the piano and was an avid reader to the end.
His lovely apartment at The Pierre Condominium, the splendid amenities, held special meaning to Jonathan, and he thanked the staff profusely.
The family’s deep thanks also goes to his support network of friends and those professionals who cared for him at Weiss Hospice. We, as his children, are proud and grateful to have been raised by such a loving and intelligent father, and we will miss him always.
Jonathan was cremated on Jan. 16 and his ashes will be spread on the mountains near his beloved Udon Thani, Thailand.
Surviving Jonathan are his wife, Yupin Lerner of Chicago, IL; sons James Lerner of San Francisco, CA and George Lerner, Chicago, IL; Ploi Lerner, Beloit, WI; his brother Edward Lerner, and five cousins.
Written by his son, George Marshall Lerner.