On January 2, the first day back after the holidays, Bridgewater Associates employees gathered in the conference room where the hedge fund firm’s investment staff meets at the start of each week.
The room was more crowded than usual, with former employees scattered among current staff members. But one seat was left empty, with only a sports jersey strewn across it: the chair usually taken by Bruce Steinberg.
Steinberg had been a senior member of Bridgewater’s research team for nearly a decade, described by colleagues as a passionate and charismatic presence who often moderated these weekly discussions about markets. But tragically, just two days before, a small plane carrying Steinberg; his wife, Irene; and their three sons, Zachary, William, and Matthew, had crashed in Costa Rica, killing everyone on board.
The loss was felt deeply at the Westport, Connecticut–based investment firm. Steinberg had been a vocal and prominent leader, admired as much for his dedicated mentorship and vibrant personality as for his intelligence and investment acumen.
On that first day back at the office, market talk was set aside in favor of a companywide memorial for Steinberg.
“It was very cathartic and moving,” says Karen Karniol-Tambour, Bridgewater’s head of investment research. “People spoke from the heart and shared what Bruce meant to them.”
To Larry Cofsky, who joined Bridgewater at the same time as Steinberg and oversaw credit research alongside him, Steinberg was not only a close colleague, but also a best friend. “I worked with Bruce for over a decade, and during that time Bruce was rarely ever more than a few feet from me,” he said in a statement. “After all the ups and downs and battles we shared, when I heard that he was gone, one thing came to mind: Bruce was a good man.”
In a series of written statements provided to Institutional Investor, colleagues echoed Cofsky’s sentiment.
“His passion for the markets, combined with his care for the people he worked with, made him an inspiring cornerstone of our investment community,” wrote Bob Elliot, an investment associate who worked closely with Steinberg. “More important than his direct contribution to the business, he was also a great role model to all of us who knew him.”
Bob Prince, co-CIO at Bridgewater, said that Steinberg was “overflowing with life,” adding that Steinberg “infused that life into everyone around him, most particularly his wife and children.”
Karniol-Tambour, who interacted with Steinberg most days as head of his team, tells II he was “extremely passionate about everything he engaged in,” even the most casual conversations about sports or politics. “If he was going to a meeting, he would be bubbling over with a million ideas,” she says. “He was very independent-minded; he did not mind getting into very heated arguments if he cared about something.”
Even Ray Dalio, Bridgewater’s founder, was not exempt. The duo would occasionally have “legendary” debates, according to Karniol-Tambour. “People always respected Bruce’s honesty and his courage,” she says.
In a statement, Dalio described Steinberg as “a leading light that many people followed because of the brightness of his personality and the brightness of his mind. There is no one at Bridgewater who was more liked and admired than Bruce.”
Phil Dobrin and Ned Devereux, members of the investment team and two of Steinberg’s mentees, remembered Steinberg as a champion and role model, with Devereux noting that Steinberg “tried to make everyone better.”
Dobrin wrote: “He was generous, he was passionate, he loved the work we did and the community we’ve built, and he was a builder and leader. He taught me more than almost anyone at Bridgewater how to be a successful professional but that there was no true success without being true to yourself, without respect for the place you work and the people you work with, and without an appropriate balancing of professional accomplishment and personal commitment to family and community.”
Even those who did not work closely with Steinberg, like equity research team lead Erin Miles, noted that the 50-year-old would make a point of reaching out to and acknowledging the work of others.
“So many people go down the halls with their heads down, focused on whatever is in front of them, tied up in the events of the day,” she wrote. “Not Bruce.”