El-Erian Opens Up on PIMCO Departure, Gross

Meanwhile, Bill Gross is 'desperately trying' to bring the focus back to business, an expert says

Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic advisor, Allianz. (Photo: AP) Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic advisor, Allianz. (Photo: AP)

Ex-PIMCO CEO and co-CIO Mohamed El-Erian has broken his silence on why he left the bond shop earlier this year.

Speaking on Bloomberg TV Wednesday, the economist said he wanted to focus on a “portfolio of part-time activities” and spend more time with his family.  “It was time for me to do something different … I was there 14 years,” he said.

 “When your daughter comes to you, as mine did about a year ago, with a list of 22 … specific events that were important to her that I had missed… that served as a wakeup call,” El-Erian said.

PIMCO co-founder Bill Gross went public with his views on El-Erian’s departure in a Bloomberg BusinessWeek story that appeared two weeks ago.

In that article, Gross explained that he and his team pleaded with El-Erian not to leave. “I begged, as much as a man in my position can beg,” he said. “I didn’t get on my knees, but — ‘Don’t leave. What are you doing? Don’t!’ And at some point it was, ‘All right, already.’ ”

Then, Gross and the shell-shocked PIMCO team had to tackle on El-Erian’s grueling globe-trotting schedule.

“We said, ‘What are we going to do now?’ So, I started to think about the things that he did—I’m not hopping on a plane and going to Abu Dhabi and going to Munich and London, I’m too old for that stuff! Who’s going to do that? You can’t leave, you’re the CEO who travels around the world and represents PIMCO! So we’re still getting used to that.”

In addition to operational issues, there was the turmoil tied to a February story in the Wall Street Journal, which discussed personality issues between the two executives, as well as investor outflows. “Then the aftermath," Gross told Bloomberg. "I never expected that.”

While PIMCO continues to adjust, El-Erian gives Gross his full support.

“Bill is one of the world’s best investors …,” the economist said on TV. “He’s able to differentiate signals from noise and is committed to delivering value.”

Plus, the PIMCO team, El-Erian notes, “has a deep bench.” Since he left the bond shop in January, PIMCO has tapped Doug Hodge as its CEO and appointed six deputy chief investment officers.

For his part, El-Erian says he is keeping busy with his work as a daily columnist for Bloomberg, an occasional commentator for the Financial Times, the chief economic advisor at Allianz and member of its International Executive Committee, the chair of President Obama’s Global Development Council and the author of an upcoming book on the world’s central banks.

Gross Desperation

According to one expert, the pain of the breakup still stings for Gross and other PIMCO managers.

“They’ve spent two months really trying to explain away why El-Erian left, so that’s obviously not good,” said Dartmouth College economics professor Danny Blanchflower, speaking on Bloomberg TV Wednesday. “And there are concerns that people will pull their money.”

According to Morningstar, PIMCO funds had outflows of $7.4 billion in March, while $15.5 billion was withdrawn by investors in the first quarter.  

As professional investors, “You certainly don’t want to be focused on personalities,” explained Blanchflower. “And I’m sure Bill Gross … is desperately trying to change the subject back to their business.”

The economist, who served on the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee from 2006 to 2009, added that, “Obviously, what we learned from this is that personalities matter.”

In addition, Blanchflower believes that the PIMCO breakup may affect El-Erian’s reputation in the short term, but “not at all” in the long term. “He’s insightful,” the Dartmouth professor said.

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