The world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, is about to undergo a metamorphosis: according to the NYT the fund which has long been tightly controlled by its founder, Ray Dalio, and his top two lieutenants, is reshaping itself, becoming a partnership that will give its top executives significantly more say in how the $150 billion fund is run.
As part of the new partnership model, which was announced to employees and clients on Thursday, the company’s founder Ray Dalio will play less of a day-to-day role managing the company over the next decade. The partnership model is meant to create what Bridgewater executives have described as a “continuously improving perpetual motion machine,” able to keep operating long after Mr. Dalio leaves.
“Consistent with our way of operating, we are providing transparency of this progress to our employees and our clients and we look forward to sharing further details as they emerge,” the co-chief executives wrote.
As the NYT adds, the restructuring will put Dalio’s management philosophy to the test:
He created a unique and often controversial culture at Bridgewater by establishing what he calls an idea meritocracy based on “radical transparency,” in which employees are encouraged to challenge one another openly.
And yet, as Andrew Ross Sorking writes, Bridgewater was far from a democracy as final decisions always rested with Dalio and the two other primary owners of the firm, his fellow co-chief investment officers, Bob Prince and Greg Jensen. By switching to a partnership model, other senior executives throughout the firm will get both an economic stake in the business and a vote in how it is managed. It is the sort of partnership that once dominated finance, akin to the model at the consulting giant McKinsey & Company or at Goldman Sachs before it went public in 1999.
In a letter to employees, Bridgewater’s co-chief executives, David McCormick and Eileen Murray explained that the change “will both broaden the ownership across the firm and help us remain employee controlled for generations to come.”
However, what it won’t mean, at least in the near term, is a move to take the company public.
The firm has already brought in some outside investors, including the Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, as well as Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund and the International Monetary Fund. Bridgewater executives believe those investments provided enough cash to eliminate the need to raise money through an initial public offering, these people said.
It also doesn’t mean that Dalio is retiring: “that day is far off. Mr. Dalio has said he intends to remain co-chief investment officer for as long as possible, though he has sought to cut back on managing the company’s operations.” As a reminder, Dalio gave up his title of co-chief executive last year, handing day-to-day management responsibilities to Mr. McCormick and Ms. Murray.
And yet, like with many other established hedge funds who have been led by just on “luminary”, the transition follows a period of upheaval within the firm’s ranks, including the departure of several top executives and outside scrutiny of Bridgewater’s tough internal culture, which has contributed to a high turnover rate among employees.
The company’s executive structure won’t change, but under the plan announced on Thursday, Bridgewater will begin rolling out the concept of “employee partners” for those who already own what is known as phantom equity, entitling them to cuts of the firm’s profits without being owners of the firm.
Initially, Bridgewater will have two classes of partnerships. A handful of senior employees have been chosen as so-called seed partners, including Mr. McCormick and Ms. Murray, who have begun laying out the contours of what the partnership will ultimately look like. That will include the financial arrangements, which haven’t yet been set.
Then there is a bigger group of 50 provisional partners, whose job will be to represent the broader group of phantom equity holders and work with the seed partners on finalizing the terms of the partnership.
The final details of how Bridgewater’s partnership works haven’t been set, and it will be up to its prospective members to decide how to govern themselves. But the expectation is that they will start gaining more power over the next six months.
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