Mistakes from the Top Down

A couple of the investment world’s heavy-hitters have something to say about making mistakes. A fact of life which, according to a brief interview in Chief Investment Officer, is a “quality that unites the best-of-the-institutional-investing-best.”

Ray Dalio, Co-CIO and Founder of Bridgewater Associates says “I’m a professional mistake-maker—one third of my trades are probably wrong.” Dalio say that humility comes from mess-ups and his philosophy is to find “the smartest people I know who disagree with me, and see the situation through their eyes.” His strategy is to uncover weaknesses and then confront them, an approach he nurtures in himself and in his company. “Bridgewater’s culture,” he says, “is like a family: It takes some getting used to. Some make it, some don’t.”

Mark Wiseman, Head of Global Active Equities, BlackRock discusses what he sees as two types of mistakes: errors of commission and errors of omission. Errors of commission, he says, are “when an investment turns out poorly. It’s easy to spot. You’ve lost money—sometimes all your money.” He believes that these get the most attention but perhaps shouldn’t. Errors of omission, he argues, often get overlooked but can be just as costly. He says investment professionals should ask themselves: “Where did we not bid? Where could we have stretched for an investment, but didn’t?” Wiseman adds that “people errors” arising from “compromising on culture” are among the biggest that management can make. In the hiring process, Wiseman emphasizes the importance of looking at other aspects in addition to a candidate’s talent. “The amount of damage someone can cause who’s not a cultural fit is immeasurable.”