Ray Dalio Is Building a Baseball Card Collection

By
Photo: Photos: Getty Images, iStockphoto

It's no secret that billionaire Ray Dalio enjoys dabbling in behavioral psychology, which has made his hedge fund Bridgewater Associates not only the biggest in the world but also one of the most eccentric. Principles, Dalio's 123-page business manifesto, contains advice like "pain + reflection = progress" and "don't tolerate badness." The book, which is distributed to all Bridgewater employees via a custom iPad app, outlines Dalio's pet management philosophy, called "radical transparency." The theory encourages criticism and blunt honesty in all professional situations, and has also given Bridgewater a reputation as a tough place to work.

Now, New York has learned, Dalio is adding another weapon to his iPad management arsenal: baseball cards.

Bridgewater has built a custom "Baseball Cards" app for use on its in-house iPads, according to two people with knowledge of the app, which will list the strengths and weaknesses of every employee, from lowly associate to Dalio himself. Bridgewater managers are currently testing an early version of the app, which will eventually be rolled out to all of the firm's 1,000-plus employees, the people said.

A "baseball card," in Bridgewater-speak, is a list of a worker's attributes, skills, and weaknesses. Here's how Dalio describes it in Principles:

Imagine if you had baseball cards that showed all the performance stats for your people: batting averages, home runs, errors, ERAs, win/loss records. You could see what they did well and poorly and call on the right people to play the right positions in a very transparent way. These would also simplify discussions about compensation, incentives, moving players up to first string, or cutting them from the team.

On their "baseball cards," Bridgewater employees are given ratings in several dozen categories relating to their job performance and fit within the firm's culture. At present, those ratings are visible to anyone with the iPad app — meaning, for example, that a lower-level employee could see an internal review of his boss with a few taps of a glass screen. (Don't expect to find it in the App Store — Bridgewater's iPads are highly secure, and its proprietary apps can only be installed by the firm's IT department.)

Dalio, who made billions of dollars by treating the global markets like a giant machine with predictable, repeating patterns, has spent years trying to find the same order in the human psyche. One person familiar with his thinking said that developing a firmwide baseball card app was an attempt to improve Bridgewater's management process by helping managers easily gather data, reassign employees based on strengths, and enable other on-the-fly adjustments.

"Ray's paranoia right now is that he doesn’t have a clear enough picture of how people are operating," the person said.

Dalio declined to comment.

Dalio, who made an estimated $3.9 billion last year, is a known fan of Steve Jobs, another business titan who was concerned with workplace culture and truth-telling. Last year, aiCIO magazine compared the two in a story that asked, "Is Ray Dalio the Steve Jobs of Investing?"

While early versions of Bridgewater's baseball card app have been text-only, the goal is to make it more interactive, one of the people with knowledge of the app said. Later versions could allow managers to change employees' baseball cards in real time — say, during a meeting in which a junior employee proposes a good trade idea (or a bad one).

After all, one of Dalio's Principles is: "Treat your life like a game."