By most measures, Ray Dalio has achieved great success during his 62 years on earth. Unlike Donald Trump, Dalio didn’t inherit wealth. As a middle-class kid, he delivered newspapers, shoveled snow and was a caddy during the summer. The company Dalio established in his apartment in 1975, Bridgewater Associates, is now the world’s largest and most successful hedge fund manager, with more than $120 billion in assets under management. Last year, Bridgewater’s profits were larger than those of Google, eBay and Amazon combined. Recently, Dalio was ranked by FORBES as the 52nd wealthiest person in America, and the 162nd wealthiest person on the planet, with a personal net worth of $6.5 billion.
So in a highly competitive landscape populated with nearly 10,000 hedge funds, how has Bridgewater been able to rise to the top of the investment management world and remain there? It’s unlikely that Dalio and his team know more about the markets, across every asset class, than all other hedge fund managers. It’s unlikely that Dalio simply has had a luckier hand in the bets he’s placed over the past 4 decades. And it’s also unlikely that Dalio has sold his soul to the devil.
Briefly, here are 5 “secrets” to Dalio’s success:
He’s built a values-based organization – Dalio understands that Bridgewater’s ability to get 1,200 smart people to sing from the same songsheet requires clarity and consistency on what his company stands for, what it’s trying to achieve, and how it intends to get there. His belief system is based on the concept of “radical transparency,” which encourages employees to question everything, to think for themselves and to speak up.
He works ON his business, not AT his business – Dalio understands that intellectual capital, enterprise experience and operational systems & processes must be captured, documented and integrated into the day-to-day decision-making of a firm. Like Ray Kroc, Dalio has invested great thought and effort to create an organization with intrinsic value that does not rely on him, or on any individual, for its continued success. In Bridgewater, he has created the McDonald’s of investment management.
He has no patience for ego or emotion – Dalio understands how personal agendas and corporate politics can destroy any organization. He has been relentless in his efforts to remove ego barriers and emotional reactions in Bridgewater’s decision-making process. Institutional and personal transparency is the cornerstone of Bridgewater’s corporate culture. Some employees who’ve found it difficult to survive under such a high level of scrutiny either drop out or are invited to leave, providing the firm with a very effective natural selection process.
He’s focused on the importance of mistakes – Dalio understands that corporate arrogance is the most significant potential liability for successful companies. Because he believes anyone can be wrong, the Bridgewater culture views mistakes as opportunities to learn, rather than something to be avoided. James Comey, who serves as Bridgewater’s general counsel, describes the firm’s “obsession over doubt” as an asset that drives constant improvement and reduces the chances of bad decisions being made.
He’s not motivated by money – Dalio has been wealthy for a long time, but being wealthy was never his primary goal. In his own words, “I started Bridgewater from scratch, and now it’s a uniquely successful company and I am on the Forbes 400 list. But these results were never my goals—they were just residual outcomes—so my getting them can’t be indications of my success. And, quite frankly, I never found them very rewarding. What I wanted was to have an interesting, diverse life filled with lots of learning—and especially meaningful work and meaningful relationships. I feel that I have gotten these in abundance and I am happy.”
The corporate tag line describing Bridgewater Associates is aptly titled “A Different Kind of Company.” And Dalio is a different kind of American businessman. Unlike Apple’s Steve Jobs, who managed by arrogance, fiat and intimidation, Dalio has created a meritocracy that’s based on honesty, clear thinking and humility.
Bridgewater doesn’t produce clever electronic gadgets or software apps designed to entertain us or make our lives easier. Dalio’s greatest achievement is unrelated to the wealth he’s created for himself or for his institutional investor clients. Dalio’s most valuable and enduring accomplishment is based on his role as the architect of an organizational management model that can radically improve the world of work, as well as the lives of people who seek personal meaning through their work.
Unfortunately, most companies – regardless of industry – don’t have the courage or the desire to adopt Dalio’s brutally honest management approach. That’s why Bridgewater is likely to be the most world’s successful hedge fund manager for a very long time. True hedge fund craftsmanship.