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A bully boss bitten by a runaway ego

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

After co-founding an investment firm in 1971 and growing it into a $2 trillion giant, Bill Gross gained immense pride in his ability. But the co-chief investment officer of Pimco let his head get too big.

In mid-2013, he began ­arguing with Pimco’s CEO, Mohamed El-Erian. At one point, he blasted El-Erian in front of employees.

“I have a 41-year track record of investing excellence,” Gross said. “What do you have?”

El-Erian, 55, fired back a hostile comment. Eight months later, he quit.

During those eight months, their relationship worsened. Gross, 69, told some colleagues, “If only Mohamed would let me, I could run all the $2 trillion myself ... I’m Secretariat,” referring to the prize-winning thoroughbred horse. “Why would you bet on anyone other than Secretariat?”

Gross possessed skill as a bond guru, but he sabotaged himself with his imperious style. He insisted that employees not speak to him or make eye contact on the trading floor, especially in the morning. If someone talked to him—even to inform him of investment news—he might scold the speaker for breaking the silence.

He also imposed lots of rigid rules and did not tolerate minor oversights. When employees distributed handouts to accompany their presentations, Gross lashed out if they forgot to number the pages. He assigned them “communication demerits” and tallied these petty infractions throughout the year. When paying annual bonuses, he deducted for each demerit.

A controlling personality, Gross “routinely grew tired and wary of those closest to him who had assumed significant responsibility, power, and compensation,” says a former senior executive.

Convinced of his rightness in making investment decisions, Gross did not welcome dissent. When a senior manager warned that a bond in Gross’s fund seemed expensive, Gross replied, “OK, buy me more of it.”

— Adapted from “Inside the Showdown Atop Pimco, the World’s Biggest Bond Firm,” Gregory Zuckerman and Kirsten Grind, www.wsj.com.

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