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The New Bill Gross Doesn't Bite (And If He Does It's Only Because Old Habits Die Hard)

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Back in the day, as in up until the last week in February, PIMCO founder Bill Gross's management style could be summed up as: "Don't look at me, don't speak to me, don't breathe near me." When he did deign to communicate with his employees, it was to berate them for polluting his airspace by talking (even about investments), dock their pay for omitting a "p.33" on a presentation, or inform them they owed him 10 thousand dollars for sitting down.

After the Wall Street Journal detailed Gross's approach to dealing with people in an article that suggested it may have played a part in co-CEO Mohamed El-Erian's decision to leave the firm, Gross did what any senior executive of a global investment management company would do, and called up another news outlet with the conspiracy theory that El-Erian had actually ghost-written the Journal piece as part of a "campaign to undermine [him]" and whine that everyone was on his former colleague's "side."

Unfortunately for Gross, that ended up backfiring and he was forced to turn to plan B: do his best impression of a human:

In recent days, Gross has become more contemplative, according to Jacobson, who met him again on March 10. "Gross clearly views a lot of the things he has said with some regret, and takes responsibility for having said things that have added to the drama rather than calmed the situation," Jacobson said. Gross also said he would like Pimco's culture to be more where his managers can work through issues internally, without feeling like they have to pull their punches out of the fear of crossing him, Jacobson added. Several former employees described the firm as an unforgiving, cut-throat place to work at, where people are regularly humiliated for stumbles, fired for mistakes, and where Gross' bad temper has to be put up with. One former employee, for example, recalled nights he was so scared of being fired for mistakes that he could not sleep. Another said if someone showed up to an investment committee meeting unprepared or just didn't sound coherent and concise, they were unlikely to be asked back.

According to one of the sources, over the past few weeks Gross has met more than two dozen senior portfolio managers individually for half an hour each, and asked them how they were doing and what was on their mind. Such meetings with Gross are unusual. Several former employees said he usually speaks to only a few people at the firm and prefers to communicate by email. Jacobson said Gross now seemed anxious to make it easier for managers to get their ideas heard "without feeling as though they're walking on egg shells."

Since change can be hard for anyone, and Gross is a bit rusty when it comes to interfacing with people, we've compiled a bunch of tips that might help ease the transition. Bill, if you're reading, refer to the following if you ever get tripped up or instinct tells you to ask someone "What the fuck are you looking at?":

  • Whereas in the past, you might've fired someone on the spot for taking more than 10 seconds under the hand dryer in the men's room, now consider handing them a paper towel and asking, "How's your day going?"
  • The old Bill would've responded to a question about dealing with problems on home front with, "How dare you speak to me." The new Bill might offer, "When you go home tonight, communicate how you feel using "I" statements, so she doesn't feel like she's being criticized; and never, ever go to bed angry."
  • Old Bill: Publicly excoriated someone for mentioning they like the advances the toilet industry has made; New Bill: "We're all entitled to our opinions."
  • Old Bill: Slashed someone's bonus by 40% for failing to number Powerpoint slides. New Bill: Gets up from his seat, walks all the way around the conference table, cups presenter's trembling face with both hands and says, "Hey. That's okay."
  • Old Bill: Peeled out of the company parking lot nearly running over a group of analysts walking to lunch; New Bill: Slows down and asks "Do you fellas need a lift?"

If you've got any pointers for the NBG, please share them at this time.

Damage control at Pimco after Gross, El-Erian clash [Reuters via Jennifer Ablan]

Earlier: Mohammed El-Erian May Have Left Pimco Because Of A Chronic And Debilitating Condition That Caused Him To Regularly Look People In The Eye; Don’t Get Caught On “His” Side: A Survival Guide For Pimco Employees; Pimco Investor Considering Pulling Out Over Secretariat’s Erratic Behavior, Some Other Stuff