Oliver White

How do the world’s leading hedge fund managers go about assembling their teams? While some choose the standard head hunter and “pitch me a stock” route with candidates who’ve had at least a few years of business experience and proven track records, others prefer a more outside the box approach. Bridgewater Associates, for instance, has said that instead of going after veterans of Wall Street, it likes to hire people straight out of college, when their minds are still malleable. Founder Ray Dalio has stated: “Interest in the subject matter is a minor consideration…We are first interested in people’s values, second interested in their abilities, and least interested in their precise skills. We want independent thinkers who are willing to put aside their egos to find out what is true.”

Similarly, Pershing Square’s Bill Ackman, who has never been one to follow the crowd, eschews the typical hiring process in identifying talent. Instead, Ackman relies on gut instincts when it comes to making personnel calls, many of which occur outside the confines of the investing world. For example, one former analyst named Oliver White was hired after serving as Ackman’s guide on a fishing expedition in Tierra del Fuego. (Per Christine Richard’s Confidence Game: “For six days, Ackman and White, a philosophy graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, talked and fished. White explained technical details to Ackman about fly selection, casting the line, and luring the fish. Meanwhile, Ackman spotted the next member of Pershing Square’s investment team. “At the end of his stay, he asked me– no, he told me– I should come to New York and work for him.”) While Ackman was obviously impressed with White’s talent, it seems the offer was made on the basis of spending six days peering into the guy’s soul and seeing something special he knew in his plums would carry over into activist investing, rather than as a barter deal for White to teach Bill his craft, which is another way people have been hired at the fund. Read more »