Home Hedge Funds Two CEOs is the magic number at Bridgewater Associates

Two CEOs is the magic number at Bridgewater Associates

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In much of the past decade, the world’s largest hedge fund has favored having not one, but two people simultaneously holding its top position.

Westport-based Bridgewater Associates returned to that leadership structure when it
named in January two new co-chief executive officers
: Mark Bertolini, a former CEO of Hartford-based health insurance giant Aetna, and Nir Bar Dea, formerly Bridgewater’s deputy CEO. They succeeded David McCormick, who resigned ahead of an ultimately unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania.

The confidence throughout the firm in the dual-CEO framework was highlighted in high survey scores that employees gave for their work environment, leading to Bridgewater’s ranking as one of the top large employers in Hearst Connecticut Media’s 2022 Top Workplaces contest.

And Bar Dea and Bertolini have jointly won the top leadership award for 2022 among employers with 500 or more people in southern and western Connecticut — the result of Bridgewater employees strongly agreeing with the statement, “I have confidence in the leader of this company.”

Or, in Bridgewater’s case, leaders.

“Nir and Mark have been in their roles for about eight months, and we have been incredibly excited about the evolution of both their relationship and their impact on our business,” Sarah Fass, Bridgewater’s chief human resources officer, said in an interview. “We hear that from our employees, and that’s evident from the award that we’re very excited to get.”

Bertolini had been co-chairman of Bridgewater’s operating board of directors, but he is best known for his time as Aetna’s CEO, a role he held from 2010 to 2018. In November 2018, he stepped down as Aetna CEO and chairman when CVS Health completed its $69 billion acquisition of Aetna.

Bar Dea had served as deputy CEO since February 2021, after joining Bridgewater in 2015. He previously ran a real estate investment operation and founded a drone-technology startup. Originally from outside Tel Aviv, he is a retired major and platoon leader in the Israeli Defense Forces.

While Bertolini is much older than Bar Dea — he was 65, while Bar Dea was 40 at the time of their appointment as co-CEOs — Fass said that the two mentor each other in their respective areas of expertise. Their interactions reflect a culture that famously extols unsparingly honest communication, or what founder and co-chief investment officer Ray Dalio describes as “radical transparency.”

“When we’re talking about evolving the way we talk about talent or building things that can accommodate lots of… processes underneath them, that’s something Mark has a ton of experience in, we lean on Mark for those things,” Fass said. “And knowledge of how we do research is new to Mark relatively, but not new at all to Nir.”

Bar Dea and Bertolini were not available for an interview.

The co-CEOs focus on managing all aspects of the firm. But they do not dictate the investment strategies at Bridgewater, with approximately $150 billion in assets under management, ranking the firm No. 1 among hedge funds. Those decisions are overseen by Dalio and fellow co-chief investment officers Greg Jensen and Bob Prince.

Bertolini and Bar Dea approach their leadership roles as a partnership, Fass said. “They have not divided up the departments that they oversee or influence. They very much do it together.”

The co-CEO model rarely if ever works, or lasts, in a traditional, publicly traded corporation, where dual arrangements have occasionally followed mergers. A privately held financial firm, even a very large one, can be different, however.

Among other co-CEO pairings in recent years, McCormick and Eileen Murray served as co-CEOs of Bridgewater from 2017 to 2020.

Murray sued Bridgewater in 2020, alleging that it was withholding up to $100 million in deferred compensation because she had disclosed to a third party that she had a gender-discrimination dispute with the firm. The complaint
was settled later in 2020
, with Murray describing it as an “amicable and fair agreement,” and Bridgewater officials stating their “tremendous amount of respect for Eileen and the many contributions she made to Bridgewater.”

Dalio’s leadership of the firm included a stint as co-CEO, but he stepped down from that role in 2017.

Today, Bar Dea and Bertolini are again seeing Dalio and other colleagues in-person frequently because Bridgewater’s offices in a wooded campus have re-opened following closings earlier in the pandemic. About 85 percent of the firm’s approximately 1,200 full-time employees are based at the headquarters in Westport. All of that staff convenes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as part of a hybrid workplace that allows remote working on the other days.

“Nir and Mark and our broader leadership team are very committed to having deep connectivity with our community members,” Fass said. “Our leaders are walking around, you see them in the hallways, in the café, and employees can send emails to our CEOs and create a conversation. It’s a very open community in that way, and that’s really based upon our culture.”

pschott@stamfordadvocate.com; twitter: @paulschott

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