Profile: Eileen Murray

Co-CEO, Bridgewater Associates, LP

HAMLIN LOVELL

Eileen Murray is co-CEO of Bridgewater. These titles make her accountable for a wide swathe of responsibilities, including the Back Office Transformation Project, counterparty relationships, and the office of CEO. Additionally, Murray is the “community” RP (responsible party) for Bridgewater, a role she especially enjoys. “Bridgewater wants to do things well, so it may sometimes look contrarian,” she says, and the policy of outsourcing back office to two providers is one example of a contrarian approach. BNY Mellon and Northern Trust (NT) duplicate all processes and procedures, such as reconciliation, evaluation and valuation: they “double do” everything, in fact, except for actual cash movements. Bridgewater takes comfort in having two outsourcers, as this “failover protocol” means one firm can always pick up any slack if the other experiences any delays, outages or failures. Bridgewater went through “an extensive two-year evaluation of a number of parties” before forging strategic relationships with the two outsourcers.

Although Bridgewater has always had “a very good back office”, having two outsourcers allows the firm to “solve problems much more quickly than a single provider could,” says Murray. She “loves the way Bridgewater approaches problems and challenges, seeking the best answer for clients and Bridgewater, not solely based on [short-term] cost considerations”. Superficially, having two overlapping outsourcers would appear to be an expensive approach. But former accountant Murray takes a more holistic view of costs: Bridgewater also taps into the intellectual capital of the two firms in relation to the evolving regulatory environment, she explains, pointing out that internal costs can even be reduced by having access to external specialists who are servicing the regulatory needs of multiple clients. Murray does not underestimate the growing complexity of regulation, citing that only 38% of Dodd Frank has been interpreted and implemented so far, leaving another 62% to go. And that ignores the changes in regulations outside the US where she does not envisage global harmonisation of regulation, and expects “different regulators will continue to have different requirements and requests that need to be complied with, and this is not cheap”. Notwithstanding the benefits of outsourcing regulatory reporting, Murray is adamant that Bridgewater remains accountable for the results.

Murray’s accountabilities at Bridgewater draw upon all of her prior experience: she was controller and treasurer of Morgan Stanley, rising to COO of the institutional business after the Dean Witter takeover. When at Credit Suisse she was accountable for operations, product control, operational risk, and technology. Murray thinks technology is “still in its infancy” and continues to be thrilled by the innovative and creative people she meets in the technology space. These different functionalities are all synthesised at Bridgewater, but “coming to Bridgewater was more about having impact, being with like-minded people in terms of values, and really enjoying the people I work with,” she says.

The Bridgewater culture is one of “radical transparency” where everyone is “obliged to speak their mind and point out problems, constantly improving by focusing on things that can be improved,” she asserts. Bridgewater attracts people with many different ways of thinking, and “gets the collective value of harnessing that diversity”. The firm is “a complete meritocracy, where the most junior person has every right to speak up as the most senior person”. Murray finds that this “social contract with each other to speak our minds eliminates politics,” and insists that with staff coming from all different backgrounds “it really is irrelevant being female – the focus is on getting the best people, how they think and what they are like”. The whole firm spends “an incredible amount of time understanding different ways of thinking, and how Eileen Murray is as an individual”.

Radical transparency is embodied in Bridgewater’s famous management principles, which are “pervasive throughout the company”, as is the culture of constructive criticism and truthfulness, in operations as elsewhere. Murray feels that the attention now devoted to operational risk by the industry and regulators had been “long overdue” and the activity needs “great people who feel comfortable bringing forward any issues they see”. The dual outsourcers are a prime example. This clearly seems contrarian compared with other companies, but generates manifold benefits. It provides substantial risk mitigation, which is good for Bridgewater clients – if BNY has any issues, the function will be backed up by NT. That BNY and NT are in different geographic locations also provides extra systemic back-up, helpful in case of black-outs or power-downs.

The Management Principles say that “offering equal opportunity is fundamental to being good”. This translates into the firm’s ethos of “shared values, getting the best talent, different ways of thinking, being innovative and creative to take ideas and actualise them into reality”. This is manifested ina philosophy that the whole should be greater than the sum of the parts: so “1+1 = 3”. This whole way of thinking makes people “part of the Bridgewater family”. Murray admits that attrition rates can be higher in the first 18 months, since the culture or transparency is not for everyone. But for her, “these are people who want to spend the rest of their lives together”. Murray says, “The community is there for me in a very real way”. She gives two examples. When she recently underwent a hospital operation colleagues and Ray Dalio visited her and called her before and after. Similarly after a sensitive family situation, “Ray and others helped me through the process in a way that is incredibly helpful and thoughtful”. Murray summarises the strong bonds of friendship by saying, “Everyone turns up at weddings and parties – true friends are there for you at funerals and sick days”. So Bridgewater “is not just about meaningful work, it’s also about meaningful relationships.” These close-knit ties within the Bridgewater community hark back to Murray’s childhood. She lost her father when he was young, and grew up in a household of moderate material resources, in a voluntary housing project living alongside eight siblings. Having been fortunate in life monetarily she finds it “important to give back to the community as much as I received,” and describes those working at the charities she supports as “angels on earth”. One of the charities, Inwood House, was started by two sisters to help young pregnant girls find homes and get back into the educational system – and Murray says, “when they get a helping hand they really excel”. Another charity she supports, the YMCA, does many things for children in New York.

Murray feels humbled to have received leadership awards from several other voluntary organisations. Legal Momentum helps women with legal issues, Urban Stages assists aspiring actors and actresses, and the Women’s Bond Club is about career development. Until recently Murray sat on the board of her alma mater, Manhattan College, where she studied accounting amongst what she recollects as a very diverse group of mainly children of immigrants, laying the foundations for her meteoric career path through KPMG, via Wall Street, to Bridgewater’s bucolic Connecticut location.

Biography

EDUCATION
• B.S. in Accounting from Manhattan College.   
CURRENT ROLE
• Joined Bridgewater in 2009.
• COO, co-president and member of the management committee at Bridgewater.
PREVIOUS ROLES
• Spent most of her early career from 1984 at Morgan Stanley.
• In 2002 worked at CSFB as Head of Global Technology, Operations, and Product Control.
• Returned to Morgan Stanley in 2005.
• Most recently president of Duff Capital Advisors and CEO of Investment Risk Management.