But six years ago, as his growing firm continued to take on hundreds of new staffers, Dalio saw that culture slipping away. He began pecking out notes on his BlackBerry after meetings in which he felt a core value being misunderstood or neglected. The notes piled up. Eventually, Dalio added an introduction and some explanatory material and distributed the collection to his employees.
A corporate gospel isn’t novel—The Bloomberg Way was required reading for Bloomberg News employees years before Dalio set down his ideas. But Principles is no mere training manual. The first half of the book, “My Most Fundamental Principles,” contains Dalio’s abridged autobiography, an apologia for radical transparency, and a step-by-step guide to “personal evolution.” The precepts in this section—many of them written in a digressive, self-serious style that reads as if Ayn Rand and Deepak Chopra had collaborated on a line of fortune cookies—are never about making money, at least not openly. They’re about following rules, learning from mistakes, reaching your goals. Doing things in the Bridgewater way is thought to be the best—and possibly only—way of achieving these objectives. If you live rightly, whatever happens is okay, since, as he wrote, “self-interest and society’s interests are generally symbiotic.” If the hyenas take down a young wildebeest, well, c’est la vie.
The document’s second half, “My Management Principles,” contains Dalio’s 277 workplace rules: To hold more productive meetings, “enforce the logic of conversations.” When coaching subordinates, “manage as someone designing and operating a machine rather than as someone doing tasks.” And so on.
There is nothing to fear from truth.
When a pack of hyenas takes down a young wildebeest, is this good or bad?
Ask yourself whether you have earned the right to have an opinion.
A skeptic might point out that the primary benefit Dalio believes his maxims deliver—greater efficiency in the search for truth—might be canceled out as man-hours are burned issue-logging and drilling down, and that many of his rules are confusingly contradictory: He admonishes against sweating the small stuff but also encourages gripes about peas. Some employees also note that no-problem-is-too-small can become license to micromanage. (“If I were worth $10 billion, I’d spend more time on my yacht and less time sending e-mails at 3 A.M.,” one grumbles.) But if Dalio’s rules make it desirable to be unsparing in pursuit of excellence, they are explicitly less tolerant of dissent to his principles themselves. “We don’t want to change the culture to make it comfortable for people who are uncomfortable with it,” he writes, because changing it would redefine the norm and slow the adaptation process.” Dalio is confident that for those willing to buy in, full acclimation is only a matter of time. “With their increased usage, not only will they be understood, but they will evolve from ‘Ray’s principles’ to ‘my principles,’ and ‘Ray’ will fade out of the picture in much the same way as memories of one’s ski instructor or basketball coach fade and people pay attention only to what works.”
Bridgewater’s headquarters is a set of three stone-and-glass buildings built around a creek tucked deep in the woods, a few hundred yards past an unmarked turnoff. It’s a low-key setting for a money palace, and the cars in its parking lot reflect a similar ostentatious humility—lots of Civics, fewer Carreras. Dalio’s office sits next to other managers’ on the third floor of the main building.
Getting a job at Bridgewater isn’t easy. Applicants are given Myers-Briggs tests (“Not a lot of F-types there,” says one former employee) and some are asked to conduct mock debates with other candidates for the same job. One ex-candidate, who was not offered a position, summarizes Bridgewater’s group interview process as “John, what are Bob’s flaws? Bob, what are John’s flaws?”
Most hedge funds hire primarily more-experienced investors, but Dalio is said to prefer recent undergrads from schools like Princeton and Dartmouth, who may not know how to price rate swaps but bring other advantages. “Young people are more malleable,” says one employee. “If you take someone who’s led a thousand-person group at a bank and bring them to a place where they can be challenged by their 28-year-old analyst, it’s not going to be easy for them.” Even with those measures in place, Bridgewater life proves just too bizarre for a lot of recruits. Thirty percent of new employees are said to quit or get fired within two years.
For the employees who remain, the payoffs can be sizable: generous (though not industry-leading) pay and a full slate of perks, including quarterly blowouts at which Dalio has been known to take a direct role in the revelry. (“He’s a bit of a frat boy,” says a former employee who recalled hoisting tequila shots with him.) A fancy bus takes employees back to Manhattan after work and returns them to Westport the next morning, though many of Bridgewater’s young employees room together in local rentals. Many current and former employees speak convincingly of the bonds formed by unbridled honesty. Some compare Bridgewater to a family that can, when the time comes, be hard to leave. “I miss it,” says one former employee. “It’s almost like I was a more effective thinker when I was there.”