The Milken Institute Global Conference guest list this year included the usual recognizable names from finance, politics, and public life. Names like Ray Dalio, Al Gore, and Kobe Bryant. And as you might have heard, for the first time, the guest list also included a few less-recognizable names from the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.
At the invitation of Guggenheim Partners Chief of Staff to the Chief Investment Officer, Michael Perkinson, four first- and second-year GMBA students participated in three days of conversations covering global finance, technology, philanthropy and more.
Hearing Kobe describe the emotional experience of his last game was cool, and former Vice President Gore’s thoughts on sustainable investing were insightful, but Ray Dalio’s session on radical transparency stood out to me as a conference favorite.
Dalio founded Bridgewater Associates in 1975, and has grown it into one of the world’s largest macro hedge funds today with some $150B under management. However, Dalio’s fund-building and investment record was not what drew a standing-room-only crowd at his Milken Institute session. Rather, it was a series of policies and beliefs catalogued in a Bridgewater employee handbook of sorts, called Principles.
Principles documents radically transparent ideas that inform evidence-based investment decisions, yes, but also creates a unique culture at Bridgewater. Simultaneously recognized as bold and brutal, the guidelines call for employees to be relentlessly honest with one another. In the Beverly Hilton that day, Dalio informally polled the crowd of investment managers, technologists, and philanthropists to gauge how people feel about this idea of direct communication that seeks to supplant troublesome emotion with definitive logic. The outcome of that polling showed that the crowd was simultaneously receptive (nearly everyone wanted to work in an environment where politics and guessing at meanings gave way to simple, explicit communication) and hesitant (people were scared by what they would learn about themselves when their coworkers stopped filtering their feedback).
Biggest takeaway: for a system like this to work, there needs to be buy-in from all participants.