There was, for instance, the incident of the wrinkled peas in the cafeteria, in which a written complaint whipped the vegetables into “pristine” shape. There was the time when the parking staff was fired for designing parking passes deemed too big. When Dalio noticed a spill on the floor by his urinal, Copeland writes, he summoned a deputy to investigate.
But for the most part, it has always been safer to be a lower-level drone than in Dalio’s direct orbit. Seemingly, the higher employees rise, the more compromised they become. James Comey, who served as Dalio’s security chief before his stint as F.B.I. director, received around $7 million a year. Among other things, Copeland relates, he was given the task of investigating a young woman’s risqué messages; once, he allegedly left a private binder out to catch low-level employees reading it.
Yet no degree of servility has been quite enough to save anyone from ritual humiliation. If an employee fails at an impossible mission, or is found to have lied about some small point of personal behavior, Dalio’s strategy has been to call for a “probe” in front of their co-workers. In the case of the most serious perceived transgressions, these have turned into full-on trials. As Copeland reports, in several of these instances, the employee subjected to Dalio’s browbeating started sobbing. Naturally, the sessions are recorded so that people in the company might learn from them.
Dalio asks his minions for honest feedback, including on his own performance. He does not often get it, of course. Paul McDowell, tasked with designing the “Principles Operating System,” Copeland writes, “assigned an underling to go into the software and program a new rule. Dalio himself would be the new baseline for believability in virtually all important categories. As the original, topmost believable person at Bridgewater, Dalio’s rating was now numerically bulletproof to negative feedback. Regardless of how everyone else in the firm rated him, the system would work to keep him on top.”
The careful reader might wonder how a place that seems to devote almost all its energies to competitive flagellation still makes money.