Gross Settles with Allianz’ PIMCO for $81M, Ending Bitter Legal Dispute

By | March 28, 2017

For Bill Gross, the long goodbye is finally over.

More than two years after the legendary bond manager was ousted from Pacific Investment Management Co. — the firm he co-founded and built into a $2 trillion asset manager — he settled a bitter legal dispute with a public rapprochement.

PIMCO, where Gross shot to fame as the king of the bond market, agreed to pay $81 million — a modest sum given the fortune he amassed during his 43 years there. PIMCO also agreed to dedicate a new “Founders Room” at its headquarters in honor of Gross and others who launched the firm in 1971, a nod to his role as its most famous market prognosticator and manager of the PIMCO Total Return Fund, once the world’s largest mutual fund. PIMCO also named him as a director emeritus of the firm’s charitable foundation.

For Gross, now 72, the development brings an end to a long struggle in the twilight of his career to overcome his split with the firm he co-founded and turn the page at Janus. PIMCO faced a torrent of redemptions after Gross’s exit in 2014, but that money didn’t follow him en masse to his new home.

For PIMCO, the resolution offers the firm, which managed $1.5 trillion as of Dec. 31, a chance to move on from Gross’s legacy, according to William Thompson, PIMCO’s CEO from 1993 through 2008.

‘New Day’

“It’s a new day,” Thompson, who remains friendly with Gross and associates at PIMCO, said in a telephone interview. “You’ve got to look forward. If you don’t spend most of your time focused on today and tomorrow, then you’re probably not doing the right thing for your investors.”

Gross sued Newport Beach, California-based PIMCO, contending he was ousted by a “cabal” of executives who wanted a larger share of his bonus, which was $290 million in 2013. He also asserted in the suit that the executives wanted to offer more high-fee products to investors rather than PIMCO’s traditional bond funds. Gross, who didn’t reply to a request for comment, now runs the $1.9 billion Janus Global Unconstrained Bond Fund.

“Bill Gross has always been larger-than-life,” Dan Ivascyn, PIMCO’s group chief investment officer, said in a statement announcing the agreement. “Bill has had an enormous influence on PIMCO and the careers of many who have passed through its halls. He built this business from the ground up and we have great respect and admiration for his talents.”

After his departure, Gross set up a Janus office at a tower with a view of PIMCO’s headquarters from his window. His unconstrained fund has had a total return of 5.1 percent since he took over management in October 2014, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That compares with a 6 percent return during the period for the $3.5 billion PIMCO Unconstrained Bond Fund, which uses a similar go-anywhere strategy.

Gross’s reputation and PIMCO’s growth soared after the 2008 financial crisis, when his Total Return Fund posted gains as markets crashed. Assets at the fund soared to almost $300 billion by the first quarter of 2013, before investors spooked by the prospect of rising interest rates began pulling money.

Rising Tensions

Within PIMCO, tensions mounted as younger managers resented Gross’s authoritarian management style. Mohamed El-Erian, PIMCO’s chief executive officer, resigned in early 2014, prompting more infighting and preceding the push that ended with Gross leaving a handwritten resignation letter minutes before U.S. markets opened on Sept. 26, 2014.

“Driven by a lust for power, greed, and a desire to improve their own financial position and reputation at the expense of investors and decency, a cabal of PIMCO managing directors plotted to drive founder Bill Gross out of PIMCO in order to take, without compensation, Gross’s percentage ownership in the profitability of PIMCO,” according to his complaint. It alleged that PIMCO executives’ “improper, dishonest, and unethical behavior must now be exposed.”

The trial was scheduled to begin in September.

PIMCO’s assets began to rebound last year from a low of $1.4 trillion. The firm hired Manny Roman in July as CEO, replacing Doug Hodge, whom Gross had helped name to succeed El-Erian. In February, Ivascyn’s PIMCO Income Fund surpassed PIMCO Total Return as the firm’s largest mutual fund.

‘Capable Hands’

Gross’s wife, Sue, filed for divorce in November after 31 years of marriage, citing irreconcilable differences. The couple agreed in January to begin the division of their assets starting with an initial distribution of $600 million apiece, according to a court filing.

Gross will partially match the $81 million settlement to make a total charitable contribution of $100 million, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified because the financial terms weren’t disclosed. The proceeds are going to the billionaire’s family foundation, the person said.

“PIMCO has always been family to me, and, like any family, sometimes there are disagreements,” Gross said in the statement, which added that he is glad “to know that PIMCO is in capable hands.”

The case is Gross v. Pacific Investment Management Co., 30-2015-00813636, California Superior Court, Orange County (Santa Ana).

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