Three months ago, Bill Gross thought he knew himself. Thought he knew where his life was headed. Thought he knew how people saw him. He knew that each morning when he woke up he would feed the cats. He knew that he'd eat some eggs and kiss his sleeping wife good-bye. He knew he'd get in his convertible and drive over to the office using his knees to steer the wheel, leaving his hands free to munch on the Special K he'd packed for the ride. He knew he'd sit down at his desk at and work in total silence. He knew that at 9AM PST, he'd sweat things out on the recumbent bike. He knew he'd avoid speaking to employees, or asking how their kids were doing.
In reality, he knew nothing.
Then his co-captain, Mohamed El-Erian left him. The Wall Street Journal wrote an article detailing his hatred of eye contact and the spoken word. Reuters reported his desperate middle of the night phone call to complain that his ex-colleague was out to get him. Investors suggested forcing people to write ten thousand dollar checks for sitting instead of standing was irrational. And Bill Gross got a good look.
Reading about himself, Gross says he thought, “Is this the person I am and have been?” [...] “People have different impressions of themselves, and where reality lies is somewhere in between...I always thought of myself as being part of a family and sharing and, yes, leading, but not forcing people to do anything. And so it was almost like a metaphysical few months where I was, like, is this me?” Gross says. “Sort of like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland—instead of who are you, who am I? That’s been the most upsetting part. Are they right? Or am I right?”
Being confronted with one's true self was not easy, no matter how many fictional characters have paved the way.
“It’s been like a near-death experience, an emotional blow,” he [told BusinessWeek]. His nervous press handler sits a few chairs away, unsure what might come out of his boss’s mouth next. “Whenever I read the newspaper,” Gross says, “I say to myself, ‘At least my wife loves me.’ ” [...] It was as if he became aware, for the first time, and at age 69, of the possibility that the qualities found in successful traders—a fixation on numbers and the markets, impatience, the desire to win no matter what—are not necessarily the same ones that make for a beloved boss. “ ‘Gross is an autocrat, a dictator,’ ” is how Gross describes the way he’s been depicted, unfairly, he might add. He then swerves into the only known mash-up of bond trading and Gertrude Stein: “ ‘Gross is a Gross is a Gross.’ ”
In fact, it's been downright painful.
“Our Gross has not been a happy camper for the last two months,” he says one morning in late March, sighing deeply. “But an unhappy captain still has to steer the ship through the rocks.”
Nevertheless, the forced self-reflection has been good for the Pimco chief. He's still figuring it out, but he knows he wants to relaunch as Gross 2.0, a mix of tyrant ruler and man of the people, someone who might not be ready to ask an employee how her kids are doing but might be okay asking her what floor she's getting off at in the elevator. And who knows, maybe he'll even press the button. Maybe. (In the near term though, just asking which floor and the moving to the back of the elevator would be progress.)
Gross is hopeful, but even he has his doubts. “It’s not always necessarily a productive process to have everyone leave the meeting with smiles on their faces. Maybe there should be a grain of sand in the oyster to produce the pearl, maybe there should be some conflict,” he says. “So that’s the challenge for me, as CIO. To recognize that some people thought I was autocratic, to recognize that. To recognize that this new atmosphere is fresh and exciting to me, as well as to them, but also … that the task of a CIO and a leader is like a captain on a ship: to combine all of the people on board into a cohesive unit that produces results.”
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Bill Gross is captain first, pastry chef second.
Gross served in the Navy during Vietnam, and he can’t help referring to what he learned there about making quick decisions and not bothering about whether others understand or agree. “We want to have a fighting team that sinks the other navy ships, as opposed to a fighting team that’s happy and has to man the lifeboats,” he says. “That’s the danger in this—it’s not all love and kisses and cheesecake dessert.”
In the future though, there may be coffee cake in the break room on Fridays. Glazed Pop'ems if he's in a really good mood.
Pimco's Bill Gross Picks Up the Pieces [BusinessWeek]
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; The New Bill Gross Doesn’t Bite (And If He Does It’s Only Because Old Habits Die Hard)