Over time investors began to take note of ARK’s eye-popping returns—her flagship innovation fund has gained more than 400% since it was created in 2014. And as money pours in, ARK has gone from burning through Wood’s cash to generating lots of its own. The company’s portfolios have sucked in about $47 billion of assets as of March 10, according to FactSet data. ARK charges about 0.7% to manage that money, which suggests her firm could be making around $330 million or so in annual revenue.

Wood loves a good debate

Investment companies aren’t always the easiest places to work. SAC Capital founder Steve Cohen reportedly kept the trading floor at 69°F to make sure people stayed alert, and often yelled: “Do you even know how to do this fucking job?” Bill Gross, the former bond king, was said to be a control freak on the trading floor, requiring absolute silence and issuing “demerits” to traders who fell out of line.

By contrast, Laffer says Wood is remarkably normal, the kind of person you’d want to talk to at a cocktail party—and if you did, she’d be unlikely to talk about herself. He describes her as a devout Christian (ARK’s acronym stands for Active Research Knowledge, but is also a reference to the gold-covered chest containing the tablets inscribed with the 10 Commandments) whose faith infuses the way she treats people and does business. He says she relishes debate, especially when it comes to her investing ideas, but she doesn’t let those arguments become nasty, and doesn’t consider other people to be her enemies. She’s not above firing people, but she doesn’t bad-mouth them on their way out.

“She’s very capable of making very hard, tough decisions that are unpopular,” Laffer says. “She can do that and does it all the time. But she does it nicely.”

That zest for debate is evident just about everywhere. You could see it when she defended her views on Tesla on television, and it is baked into ARK’s methods. In the early days, the company’s weekly brainstorming sessions took place in a conference room with Wood on her feet in the middle and her analysts surrounding her, according to a Forbes article in 2014. Wood says social media is a way of crowdsourcing to further interrogate ARK’s ideas, and she has likened the process to open-source investing.

“People have no reluctance to criticize research when they don’t know the people,” she says. “We like that. We want to know when we are making a mistake.”

Wood’s iconoclastic style isn’t for everyone

Money managers live and die by their reputations. Wood has tied hers to risky bets like bitcoin, which has, so far, proven to be a speculative asset par excellence but has a long way to go before it establishes itself as digital gold or the internet’s native currency.

Then there is the piece of her reputation she has staked on Tesla, which is run by Elon Musk—who is, depending whom you ask, either a brilliant visionary or a self-destructive CEO, or perhaps both. Meanwhile, executives at powerful companies from Apple (reportedly) to German automakers like Volkswagen have set their sights on Musk’s market.

ARK made at least one bad bet even though warnings lights were clearly flashing. ARK’s ETF focused on fintech had a position in Wirecard, a German payment company that turned out to be a fraud. According to FactSet data, ARK increased its position in Wirecard even after the Financial Times began publishing articles about irregularities at the company, which soon collapsed.

Wood’s investing style isn’t for everyone. Her flagship ETF is down about 10% this year, showing the ARK rollercoaster doesn’t just go up. Some of her bets will take years to pay off, if they ever do. They may go out of fashion, for a while at least, if they miss their marks. Winton, ARK’s research director, has already forecast the company’s own backlash. “I think it’s likely that at some point, people will think that ARK was a scam, and that we don’t know our left from our right,” he told Bloomberg in February.

If Laffer’s impressions of her are any guide, Wood isn’t worried about the troughs that follow the peaks. Had ARK failed in its early days, he thinks she would have taken it in stride because the point was to use her time and money to chase a dream. Likewise, he says ARK is a vehicle for her do something she loves: “She likes risk in the sense of investing for big payouts over long periods of time,” Laffer says. “And she doesn’t take money off the table quickly.”

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