Bill Gross’ Love Letters: A Dealbreaker Retrospective

Misty water-colored memories of the way they were.
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Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

For the third time in his life, and the second time from a woman, Bill Gross is getting a divorce. His wife, Sue, moved to end their 31-year-marriage two days before Thanksgiving. And we have a pretty good idea of how he’s coping. In the aftermath of his most recent split, from PIMCO, the firm he co-founded 45 years ago, Gross sat down with the Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin and explained how he handles such things.

You don’t want to get up and get out of bed. It is depressing, and it was a hard period of time and sort of still is….

I went through a nasty divorce years ago and powered through it while building a business and doing well in the market. Maybe that doesn’t speak to being a well-rounded human being. I don’t know.

It’s unclear it will be any better this time. Sue Gross is represented by celebrity divorce lawyer Laura Wasser, whose previous work includes ending the marriages of Kim Kardashian, Angelina Jolie, Maria Shriver and Britney Spears. Not that the split should be terribly complicated, as Wasser explained.

“In New York it’s different, it’s an equitable distribution," Wasser said in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek last year. “Here you can sit on the couch and eat bonbons while your husband’s at work, and you’ll still get half of everything.”

Including, presumably, the $200 million Bill’s still got coming to him from PIMCO. But this is about more than the splitting of assets, difficult as that may be: Sure, Sue gets to keep the awful chartreuse Titleist she made the family’s only hole-in-one with; Bill always hated the sight of the thing, anyway. But the World’s Greatest Shower can only go to one of them. And then there’s the matter of emotional support, of which Sue has been the sole provider in the wake of Bob Gross’ death two-and-a-half years ago.

“Whenever I read the newspaper,” Gross says, “I say to myself, ‘At least my wife loves me.’ ”

And maybe she still does. It’s just that, like basically everyone Gross has ever known or worked with, she can’t live with him. In the Sorkin Q&A last year, Gross slightly foreshadowed last month’s heartbreak when he noted that having to spend mornings and evenings with the Triple Crown of Newport Beach was quite enough for Sue, thank you.

There’s yet another casualty of the Gross divorce. For years, it has served as inspiration to Bill for his monthly investment outlook. When there were no tales of his somewhat less-than-triumphant youth to relate to Fed policy, no pets to mourn, no bathroom innovations to denounce, Sue offered a bottomless well of tangentially-relevant vignettes to whatever Bill had to say about the bond market that month, a window into what living with the Great Man must be like. Here’s a selection from the fixed-income industry’s greatest man of letters.

Bill Gross on Sue’s kindness and advice

Not being able to avoid seeing my spare tire, I take my wife Sue’s advice when it comes to weighing herself – do it only first thing in the morning. In this case, there is the additional appeal of lights being dim and if I can creep past the bathroom mirror while turning my head the other way, then all the better.

Sue never mentions the bulge, which is her loving style, but I know she must be looking every once in a while.

And on retaining some mystery in marriage

I never let Sue see my backside, however. Having not seen it myself for 20 years, I’m afraid I might tell her to buy a gun and just shoot me before the fat and the cellulite strike again.

Bill Gross on dealing with differences (not irreconcilable ones)

I hate crows and my wife Sue hates bugs, but like most married couples we have learned to live with our differences. Crows eat bugs though, and bugs eat bugs….

And on avoiding them

About four years ago I opened up our family brokerage statement and searched with some effort to find the yield on our money market account…. My eyes finally fixed on the appropriate disclosure – hidden though it was – and it said “.01%.” Impossible! I thought. There must be a mistake here. Surely the decimal point was misplaced. Wasn’t “.01%” really 1% or even .1%, but definitely not “.01%.” That was close to nothing! Having counted cards at the blackjack table in my youth, I quickly calculated that over the next 12 months, our $10,000 balance would earn exactly $1.00. “Buy yourself a pair of shoes,” I said to Sue standing near my shoulder, “a pair of sandals at the weekend garage sale.” The remark was not well received. It seemed Sue was as sensitive about shoes as I was about interest rates. Note to self: Do not mention shoes with Sue except in the phrase “what a cute pair of shoes.”

Bill Gross on his wife’s all-too-obvious favorite Looney Toon… with further foreshadowing

That adorable skunk, Pepé Le Pew, is one of my wife Sue’s favorite cartoon characters. There’s something affable, even romantic about him as he seeks to woo his female companions with a French accent and promises of a skunk bungalow and bedrooms full of little Pepés in future years. It’s easy to love a skunk – but only on the silver screen, and if in real life – at a considerable distance.

Bill and Sue Gross on Art and staying grounded

I’ve never been much of an art aficionado myself, having settled for framing some All American Rockwells neatly clipped from old Saturday Evening Post covers. There was a time though when a well-publicized Rockwell came to auction and Sue and I expressed some interest. Ever since, we’ve been on the art house’s mailing lists and I must admit, it’s fun to browse through the Picassos, Rothkos, and whatever else currently frenzies modern collectors. I’m no expert though, and if I begin to pretend that I am, Sue puts me in my place because she’s the artist in the family. She likes to paint replicas of some of the famous pieces, using an overhead projector to copy the outlines and then just sort of fill in the spaces. “Why spend $20 million?” she’d say – “I can paint that one for $75”, and I must admit that one fabulous Picasso with signature “Sue”, heads the fireplace mantle in our bedroom.

Bill Gross on his wife’s quick wits

Here’s where my story about Jeff and his first at bat come into play. As fate would have it again, the man ahead of us introduced himself as Mike “Something or other” and in my nervousness (I thought I was Mr. Cool) the name stuck in my mind just like the left-handed batter’s position had stuck in Jeff’s. As Mike and his wife moved on and Sue and I moved forward to the Gates, I stuck out my hand and said “Hello, I’m Bill Gross, it’s nice to meet you, Mike .” Well, the look on Bill Gates’ face sort of said it all, I guess, but for what seemed like the same eternity as Jeff facing the back of the batting cage, I mentally stuttered and stammered and said to myself, “How in the hell am I gonna get out of this one?” Thank God for my black tuxedo because my underwear seemed to be turning a distinct shade of brown. Finally I said “I……I mean —Bill.” Like the little league coach, it was Sue who finally saved me, talking effortlessly about the house and golf and the things we shared in common. But the man had become the little boy—of that there could be no doubt.

Bill Gross on his and Sue’s second dance

Although we had figuratively waltzed through those three decades, I had from time to time wondered about the actual dancing…. That all changed on September 2, 2014 – the day Sue asked me to dance! Maybe it was that extra vodka martini on her side of the table, maybe, as she said later that night, it was my “fluffy hair” or maybe it was just the fated last piece of a puzzle coming together on the perimeter of what to me has been a uniquely wonderful marriage. Whatever. We danced!

I must tell you though that this was no ordinary dance. She – the ex-Disco Queen – and I the young student of Arthur Murray, strutted, boogied, discoed with moves that neither of us thought we could ever do – sober or even mildly inebriated. We dipped, we twirled, I even did a bop or two.

Bill Gross on keeping the spice and fire in a relationship, and on emasculation

Every weekend when Sue and I walk the neighborhood there is a fresh supply just waiting to be picked up on the blacktop. Here a penny, there a penny, everywhere a penny penny. Perhaps, I figure, it rained copper last night instead of H2O but no, they’re just on the street, lying there like a bunch of cigarette butts that someone obviously didn’t want to bother with. I will. As a matter of fact Sue and I compete for them….

The competition is so fierce between Sue and I that the position of the penny goes unobserved as we push each other out of the way to be the official finder and therefore dispenser of the day’s good luck. When Sue gets there first she rather smugly hands the penny to me for safe keeping – her shorts having no pockets and all. I accept it reluctantly, all the while scouring the area for what might have been a “shower” of copperheads from some nonbeliever the night before.

Bill Gross on what his wife had to look at in bed for the past three decades

The Gross household is a robe-wearing household – at least on the distaff side. Sue has a closet full of them, all white, and is thrilled each and every Christmas with a new white one under the tree. Go figure. I on the other hand am a little more casual about nighttime attire, a habit I picked up or at least observed during my Navy years in the South China Sea….

A captain in full dress uniform is an impressive sight – four stripes on the epaulets, heavily starched white shirt. “Yes Sir!” is the almost automatic response. But an unshaven, 60-year-old, pot-bellied captain in his underwear? Now there’s a disconcerting sight….

There are no white robes under the Christmas tree for yours truly. I wear a t-shirt and jockey shorts if only to remind me of a sleeping pot-bellied captain and that old Navy adage – constant bearing, decreasing range – constant bearing, decreasing range.

Bill Gross on his and Sue’s sex life

When Nick was born in 1988, Sue and I knew that we’d have to explain his “conception” at some point before we turned over the car keys and started four-digit checks for insurance. It’s not like Nick was adopted or anything, but he was, in fact, one of California’s first “test tube babies” which made him sort of unique and special — at least to us — and we felt he deserved knowing about it. Actually, it was a godsend as far as the sex education goes. At 8 or 9, when he asked about “babies”, we both sat down and told him how he had been conceived: a doctor took some of Dad’s sperm and a few of Mom’s eggs, mixed em’ up in a test tube and “voila” — you’ve got a baby. He seemed to buy the story pretty well and we got to avoid all of the gushy —male / female — stuff.

And on parenting

Our biggest challenge came years later when Nick got his hands on one of those trashy "Victoria's Secret" advertising mailers. As a service to me, Sue always does her best to dispose of them in the garbage can as quickly as possible, but this time Nick had gotten his hands on it and was intrigued not only by the pictures of those plain and unattractive models, but by the name itself. "Dad", he asked, "what is Victoria's Secret?"

And on his extended sex life

A sneeze is, to be candid, sort of half erotic, a release of pressure that feels oh so good either before or just after the Achoo!... It feels sooooo good….

Bill Gross (euphemistically?) on size

Now let’s go small: ants, snails, worms. Feelin’ good now? Not so much I suppose, since almost all of us have eliminated a bunch of these guys with nary an afterthought. Yeah, I know they get into our kitchens and slime across our lawns and driveways, which is something whales don’t do. But a living thing is a living thing no matter what its size. See what I mean? Isn’t this somewhat of an intellectual twister of sorts? Size does matter, but maybe it shouldn’t so much when it comes to living organisms. Small things, as Newman might have agreed, really have as much a reason to live as big things. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not on a stump here calling for the abolition of the Orkin man. I just find it interesting how the bigger they are, the more we seem to love them, but when they get small, we give hardly a damn.

Pimco Co-Founder Bill Gross’s Wife of 31 Years Seeks Divorce [Bloomberg]

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