At bottom, Principles might be most effective at obscuring the fact that Bridgewater’s real mission is not to cultivate more finely tuned minds but to continue to make billions. To Dalio’s defenders, though, there’s nothing that odd about how the place functions. “Sure, Bridgewater could be defined as cultish,” says an ex-employee who has since decamped to Silicon Valley. “But companies like Google and Apple are also cults. Goldman Sachs is a cult. If you’re creating a strong corporate culture, to some extent you’re creating a cult.”
By hedge-fund standards, Dalio’s lifestyle is almost monastic. He lives with his wife of 35-plus years in a 5,550-square-foot home that’s a flophouse compared to some of their Greenwich neighbors. (Investor kingpin Paul Tudor Jones III has a 13,000-square-foot mansion nearby.) He dresses casually for work in button-downs and rumpled khakis. He bundled money for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign but has otherwise expressed no interest in being a power broker. Former employees speak of the charity donations he makes in each staffer’s name during the holidays, and some recalled his practice of lending out his vacation homes.
Bridgewater’s institutional clients, most of whom would invest with Gary Busey if it meant a 45 percent return, seem happy to overlook the hoopla surrounding Principles. But according to people who know him, Dalio has been hurt by the suggestions that he’s basically running a mind-control operation. After an article last month in Absolute Return + Alpha magazine lambasted Bridgewater’s culture as “brutal” and “demoralizing,” Dalio made an exceedingly rare TV appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box. Part of the defense he gave was tactical—Dalio indicated that the hype surrounding Principles had made hiring more difficult. But it also seems that Dalio might now be coming around to the idea that not all battles are worth fighting, after all.
Last month, a slightly tweaked version of Principles appeared on Bridgewater’s website. The document’s revised title: Principles (That Might Be Right or Wrong, for You to Take or Leave).