Pimco's best days may be ahead of it: The departure of co-founder Bill Gross will help to steer the world's biggest bond fund management firm into team-based financial management. It's a change many on Wall Street welcome.
“We’ve seen a definite trend in asset management away from the star manager,” Scott Berns, global director of manager research for Morningstar, told IBTimes. “Ten years ago it was about who’s who; now the focus is more on team strategy. If you look at a firm the size of Pimco it had to grow beyond Bill’s personality.”
Since Friday’s abrupt exit of bond investment star manager Bill Gross from Pimco, investors have followed suit by pulling billions of dollars out of the $202 billion Pimco Total Return Fund. (The fund is up 3.7 percent year-to-date.) Gross’s successor, Daniel Ivascyn, is trying to stop this exodus by assuring clients the same strategies that have worked for “many, many years” under his predecessor are still there, managed by hundreds of portfolio managers worldwide.
But for a global investment manager that has lived so long in the shadow of its co-founder, described as divisive, erratic, quirky and genius, Pimco’s new chief investment officer has a big task in front of him: to convince investors that Pimco doesn’t need its outspoken star manager. Gross is one of the last of the old-school leaders of asset management, and his abrupt resignation to join Pimco’s rival Janus Capital didn’t help make for a smooth transition.
“In the same week Derek Jeter leaves the field with such grace at the top of his game, Bill Gross does the opposite,” Marilyn Cohen, president of fixed-income manager Envision Capital Management, told IBTimes. “He could have just said, ‘I’m leaving. It’s time for me to go and for the younger generation to take over. But he didn’t.’”
Problems had been simmering since the unexpected departure in April of Mohamed El-Erian, Pimco’s former chief executive who was assumed to be Gross’ heir apparent. No specific reason was given, but ensuing media reports citing anonymous insiders said there had been growing animosities between the two men.
Gross has been accused of both autocratic and increasingly peculiar behavior. At an investment conference in Chicago in June, Gross gave an indoor speech wearing sunglasses calling himself a 70-year-old version of Justin Bieber. Just three months before his acrimonious departure on Friday, Gross called Pimco a “happy kingdom,” but tensions between Gross and Pimco management had been mounting as the bond king clashed with colleagues and threatened to leave the firm on numerous occasions. Gross resigned while Pimco was preparing a statement announcing his ouster, according to Reuters.
“This is really a story about a man unwilling to let go,” Berns said. “I wish my English lit background was stronger, because I know there’s a Shakespeare comparison in Bill’s story, maybe ‘Richard III’ or ‘Henry VI.’”
With its $1.9 trillion in assets under management, nobody thinks Pimco is going under without Gross, but clearly Ivascyn will be facing Richard III's "winter of discontent" convincing clients the firm is being run like a democracy, not a monarchy.