By Katherine Burton, Hema Parmar and Sridhar Natarajan
(Bloomberg) — With the sun rising outside their conference room in Midtown Manhattan, the visitors to a secretive investment empire bent their heads in prayerful meditation.
It was another Friday morning, 7 o’clock, and a familiar scene was unfolding again inside Archegos Capital Management, an obscure family office that would go on to shake the financial world.
In the days before the pandemic, 20 or 30 people would squeeze together around the long table and, over coffee and Danishes, listen to recordings of the Bible, according to people who were there.
First might come the Old Testament, perhaps Isaiah or Lamentations. Then came the New, the Gospels, which called out to the listeners drawn from a path known more for its earthly greed than its godly faith: Wall Street.
Hitting the play button and then receding into the background was the host, Bill Hwang, the mysterious billionaire trader now at the center of one of the biggest Wall Street fiascos of all time.
The story thus far — of a mind-boggling fortune made in stealth and then wiped out very publicly in a blink — has sent shock waves through some of the world’s mightiest banks. Estimates of the potential size of his position before it imploded have spiraled toward $100 billion. The Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into the disaster, which has set teeth on edge in trading rooms across the globe.
But those accounts tell only part of the story. Interviews with people from inside Hwang’s circle, Wall Street players close to him and documents associated with his multimillion-dollar charitable foundation fill in missing puzzle pieces — ones that haven’t been reported previously.
The picture that emerges is unlike anything Wall Street might suspect.
There are, in a sense, not one but two Bill Hwangs.
One of them walks for hours through New York’s Central Park listening to recordings of the Bible and embraces a new, 21st-century vision of an age-old ideal: that of a modern Christian capitalist, a financial speculator for Christ, who seeks to make money in God’s name and then use it to further the faith. A generous benefactor to a range of unglamorous, mostly conservative Christian causes, this Hwang eschews the trappings of extravagant wealth, rides the bus, flies commercial and lives in what is, by billionaire standards, humble surroundings in suburban New Jersey.
Then there’s the other Bill Hwang: a former acolyte of hedge fund legend Julian Robertson with a thirst for risk and a stomach for volatile markets — a daring trader who once lost a fortune betting against German automaker Volkswagen AG while running a hedge fund that was supposedly focused on Asian stocks.