The Daily Beast recently published a long piece on Bridgewater Associates — the Westport-based hedge fund that, if all goes according to plan, it will take its 1300 employees and considerable tax dollars to Stamford a few years down the pike.
The story — pegged to this year’s recruiting season at Ivy League schools — called Bridgewater a hot company for “many of the smart young finance things who used to flood to positions at name-brand banks in lower Manhattan.”
The “alternative alternative asset-management company”
isn’t for ex-jocks or day traders. Rather, it tends to attract—and look for—self-styled intellectuals and deep thinkers who like constructing arguments as much as they enjoy constructing portfolios. It’s “the thinking Yalie’s destination,” as one recent Yale graduate put it.
Bridgewater’s Glendinning Place headquarters — off Weston Road — “more closely resembles The Master than Wall Street,” the Daily Beast said. “The trading day is like a long encounter session in which people learn about themselves, and then trade their way to prosperity.”
But landing a job there is no day at the beach.
The interviews themselves have become legendary. “Really weird” and “very confrontational” were two phrases used by students to describe the on-campus interview. A candidate is likely to be put in a room with about seven people. Instead of being grilled about stock trades or economic issues, students will be asked to debate controversial topics like Roe v. Wade or gun control for an hour.
(Dalio) completed the sentence: “Because we’re weird?” (I was actually going to say because Bridgewater is privately held and isn’t engaged in the constant grind of fundraising—but yes, Bridgewater does have a reputation for being weird.)
Gross didn’t get the interview. Nonetheless, he knows a bit about Bridgewater. He lives in Westport. Comparing it to Stamford, Gross calls it
a more distant, but lovely, suburb… filled with 40-something and 50-something professionals, rather than 20-something finance newbies. The company’s headquarters are tucked in a wooded area in the northern part of town. Unless you knew it was there, you wouldn’t know it was there. Many of the young hires share rental apartments in the area during the week and live in Manhattan. The company runs buses back and forth from New York every day.
But, Gross says, “it’s not simply the location or even the money that makes Bridgewater trendy.” No; it’s that the firm “isn’t really part of the crisis-era financial system. Bridgewater wasn’t involved in the bailouts, took no Troubled Asset Relief Program money, didn’t securitize mortgages, doesn’t borrow from the Fed, and hasn’t been implicated in any insider-trading scandals.
Ivy League kids still want to make money and are still drawn to the financial-services industry. Last December I guest-taught in a session of an undergraduate course on finance and economics at Yale, and virtually all the students in the class expressed an interest in working in finance. But they didn’t want to be seen as embracing the negative aspects of finance.
For years, Goldman had the greatest cachet and mystique among this crowd. No longer. If you’re 22, notes Kevin Roose, “all your friends are skeptical of the banking industry.”
“If you tell someone you do finance, they’ll say ‘You sold your soul,’” says a Harvard undergraduate. “There’s been a big surge in interest in startups, computer science, and entrepreneurship. They call it the Zuckerberg effect.”
With its intensely intellectual work climate, flat hierarchy, and lack of attachments to the tainted sectors of the financial complex, Bridgewater offers bright young things a way to work on Wall Street without really being part of it. Which is nice work if you can get it.
True? False? Do you work there? Did you interview there?
Is Bridgewater “weird,” or the wave of the industry’s future?
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For some reason, I bet these comments will be even more anonymous than usual.