Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio has been preoccupied in recent months with promoting his new book - “Principles - and penning screeds about China and the struggles of the American working class.
But as Bridgewater Associates struggles to play down its tepid performance in recent years, it appears the firm's recruiters have scored another victory that should keep investors distracted from its middling performance.
To wit, Bloomberg reports that the $160 billion hedge fund has hired Vanessa Selbst, the world’s most successful female tournament poker player. Selbst, a Brooklyn native, is reportedly focusing on “trade research and strategy.” Among both buy and sell-side firms, strategy and research are often euphemisms for marketing. And at a shop like Bridgewater - where the machines do most of the investing - most of the firm’s 1,500 employees are essentially window-dressing.
While the company didn’t officially confirm that it had hired Selbst, a note published on her Facebook page explaining her decision to give up professional poker said that she had taken a job at an unspecified hedge fund.
"The environment feels a lot like poker did back in the day - a bunch of nerdy kids collaborating to try to beat our opponents at a game," Selbst said in her post. "It’s also really freaking difficult."
News of Selbst’s decision to join the firm followed reports last week that former Bridgewater executive Bruce Steinberg and his family were among 10 Americans killed when a charter plane crashed into a mountain in Costa Rica about a week and a half ago.
According to Bloomberg, Selbst won $11.9 million in prizes over 12 years while playing professional poker.
In addition to her track record on the poker circuit, Selbst, 33, studied at Yale University as an undergraduate and also has a degree from Yale Law - a more traditional background for a hedge fund analyst.
Before joining Bridgewater, she worked part-time at a police misconduct plaintiffs’ law firm. Selbst said she gave up poker because it was starting to feel like a “real job,” she told her followers. She also acknowledged that her hedge fund career might not work out.
Since about 2012, some of Bridgewater’s largest funds have seen their returns stagnate, as Jim Grant pointed out in a viral essay attacking the firm. Grant went so far as to suggest that the massive hedge fund might be a fraud.
In October, the firm unveiled a $700 million short position primarily against Italian financial stocks, its biggest disclosed short position involving European assets.
While Bridgewater PR wouldn’t comment, Selbst told Bloomberg that she thinks she’s getting the hang of the job.
"Every day I think I’m getting the hang of it, the next day I fail at the next challenge," she said. "It’s exhausting, exciting, and completely humbling."
Great. Maybe in a few months, she can circle back and explain to Bloomberg what exactly it is that Bridgewater’s employees during their 80-hour work weeks in Westport.