Bridgewater Associates

The Legacy of William Patrick Mahoney (1957-2013)

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To call Bill Mahoney a kind man is an understatement.  He made friends and strangers smile and laugh with compliments and funny jokes. He was the life of the party and the after party. People would form a circle around him as he told his many stories and shared his life lessons. His generosity knew no bounds. He donated money to numerous charities, helped family and friends, and picked up too many dinner tabs. His influence would change the course of people's lives for the better. He was a great boss and a mentor to many. One of his mentees is my husband Chris who wrote this article about Bill. It is a genuinely sweet tribute to a man whose impact on his life was great, as was his loss deeply felt. This is who Bill Mahoney was all about. We hope to honor his legacy by continuing what he did every day of his life: being kind

Bill wrote this letter on his last day as an executive at Bridgewater Associates, the world's largest hedge fund. It has been read and shared numerous times. If you have a few minutes to read it, I urge you to do so. In true Bill Mahoney form, it is inspiring as it is heartfelt. 

December 2006

Tips on a Fulfilling Work Life - Bill Mahoney

Friday was my last day of work at Bridgewater and maybe my last ever. Like most guys my age who grew up middle class in a small town I started working young with paper routes, shoveling driveways, mowing lawns, washing windows and such at age ten.  The prospect of calling it quits after thirty-nine years of the stuff is makes you reflect over it. My work experience by most standards would be considered varied. I had my hand at the following to either put a roof over my head or pretzels and beer in my gullet: tug boat tender, bartender, construction day laborer, investment banker, busboy, softball umpire, security guard, speech writer, roofer and most recently Director of Marketing for the world’s fastest growing money management firm. “All work is noble”, my father used to tell us as kids and I believe it today. All the jobs we have had in our life (or lack of) no matter how seemingly unrelated has prepared us to fail or succeed at our current one. With few exceptions, I have enjoyed all of my jobs and was grateful to have them at the time. Several themes on how to be fulfilled in a working life have made themselves apparent to me. I will share them with you.

Keep your job in perspective. Don’t tie your self-esteem up with your success at work. I don’t think that the most memorable line of any eulogy was “He was a very productive worker.” Be a good husband, father, neighbor, friend and person. You have control over that every day. There is too much outside of your control in the workplace to have it be a reliable barometer of your life’s worth. I have seen really talented great people fail at jobs and some bums inexplicably make good. Go figure.

Keep your income in perspective. Be thankful for the fortune you are making and don’t resent the one you are not. I remember at Bankers Trust in Australia handing a $750,000 bonus to someone who stormed out of the room threatening to quit and five minutes later having someone tear-up telling me that their $30,000 bonus would change their life. Fairfield County is the world’s breeding ground of compensation discontent for the overpaid. Read about what is going on in Darfur to put your life in perspective. Wake up every day and be grateful for being in the top 1%.

Give to Charity. Allocate a fixed percentage of your income for charity every year. Start with two percent and increase that over time if your income increases. This should be in addition to whatever you give to your place of worship if you have one as that money is really a form of dues to an organization you belong to. Work truly is noble if you give some of it back. Making a fixed percentage crystallizes that it is an essential component of your life. Don’t wait until you are “comfortable” to start this. Do it now.

Don’t be so grumpy. Smile a little bit more. Say “hello” or “good morning” as you pass by colleagues on your way to your desk in the morning. If you see the same person three times and you have not met them extend a handshake and introduce yourself. You would be surprised how much it can make someone’s day by saying that you like their new hairstyle. Treat people how you would like others to treat your brother or sister or parent or child. Lighten-up.

Know your market. You sell your time and talents to your employer. Keep abreast of what the going rate is. It is not disloyal to take a headhunter’s call or speak with another company. If you do and believe that you are being under paid or over worked talk with your manager about it. They want to know as much as you. You might never know that the grass you are walking on is the greenest in town until you look over the fence.

Do what you are good at. Most of the time people are unhappy at work because they are doing the wrong job. Pride, stubbornness or fear of failure keeps most people from shifting gears and taking the steps to work at what they are passionate about and thereby probably good at.  There is usually a big difference between what you want to be good at and what you are really good it. Resolve that conflict. Don’t just work for a paycheck. Your work life will drag on forever.  I think Giselle’s update a couple of weeks ago addressed this eloquently. It’s worth reading again.

Utilize the richness of your colleagues. Bridgewater has a fascinating mosaic of employees. Have lunch with someone from a different culture, country or religion. Invite their family to your home to meet your wife and children. Make an ethnic dinner together and listen to music from their land. You will learn a lot more by asking a Hindu what the difference is between Christianity and Hinduism than by reading a book or newspaper article. Some of my most cherished memories of Bridgewater are when my family was able to do these things.

Take a walk-about. This wisdom is imparted mostly to those without children. Although, never the poster boy of a model “company man”, I’ve done okay in business while having some fun along the way. After college, I made it a rule to work two and a half years then take six months off. I did this three times. The first time I bummed around Europe, the second time in the Caribbean and the third in Australia. While in Australia, I got engaged and the gig was up - good while it lasted. You are only young once. You will have plenty of time to make money. It’s a big world out there.

Prepare yourself to leap. A successful business career is seldom a gradual upward sloping line. It is erratic, punctuated with dismal failures and moments of brilliance. I have always tried to impart on people beginning their working life that long hours, missed flights and the general crap you put up with are all small deposits in your personal success bank. Don’t worry about getting your 2% raise plus inflation every year. Look for and create opportunities to make more and more deposits into your success bank. When the time is right make your withdrawal and go for it.

As you read this I am at Byron Bay beach five hundred miles north of Sydney, Australia swimming and surfing in azure blue waves with my beautiful wife, who broke my string of walk-abouts fourteen years ago, and my two awesome daughters who have truly given my life perspective since they arrived eleven and eight years ago. May all of you find what you want in work and life. Keep it simple.