Bill Gross is here for his favorite doughnut, the cake one with coconut frosting, but he’s not going to get it, not today. Jacketless under the Southern California sun, Gross ducks beneath the black umbrellas outside Rose Bakery Café, south of Malibu, looking every bit the merry old bond king. A royal-blue tie, with a cheerful pattern of white birds, is draped around his open collar like a Renaissance chain of office. His Mercedes sits hard by.
But make no mistake: This Bill Gross, the one eying the French crullers, isn’t that Bill Gross, the one who bent markets to his will at Pacific Investment Management Co., who built one of the most enduring track records in bond management history, who moved markets with his pronouncements. That old Gross wanted fame more than power and riches, and he wanted it with a hot eagerness that made enemies. By the time Pimco cast him out, he was considered by colleagues—there’s no way to sugarcoat this—to be a world-class jerk who’d lost his touch.
The Bill Gross at this bustling cafe off the Pacific Coast Highway, it must be said, is a lot like that other one. He, too, has more money than he knows what to do with. (He’s vowed to give away his entire $2 billion fortune.) He, too, has an enviable job managing money, this time at Janus Capital Group. And he remains a rock star, one who makes ears prick up when he chirps on anything from the German bund to U.S. Federal Reserve interest rates.
But this Gross is searching for something even more elusive than fame and fortune. He’s looking for redemption, even a kind of love. At 71, he feels the weight of time. He figures he has a few good years left to prove the new Bill Gross is every bit as good as the old one. Maybe even better.
The best investors, Gross says, are “people that are so needy, it’s never enough.” He’s talking about himself, too: “It’s a neurotic quest for love.”
In this milieu, what Gross means by love is about as romantic as a bond table. He means investment performance and the acclaim it brings. He was Pimco’s brightest star—until September, when he suddenly found himself looking in from the outside of the firm he co-founded in 1971.
These many months later, Gross is still coming to grips with what happened. He feels better than he did in December, which was a real low point, he says. But he misses the love. His wife, Sue, keeps telling him to get over himself.
But Bill Gross refuses to bow to anyone—least of all Bill Gross. These days, he spends a lot of time looking over his shoulder. Every day at 3 p.m. California time, he checks the daily performance of Pimco’s bond funds—the funds he used to manage—to see how he’s stacking up. “I have a happy night if I’m doing better and a not-so-happy night if I’m not doing better,” Gross says.
His nights have been rough of late. Since he took over the Janus Global Unconstrained Bond Fund on Oct. 6, it’s lost 0.8 percent as of June 1, ranking it behind 78 percent of similar funds—including the comparable Pimco Unconstrained Bond Fund, with its return of 0.9 percent.
Most mornings, as he has for years, he comes to the cafe for his favorite doughnut and a coffee. But on this particular May afternoon, his favorite coconut variety is sold out. Figures. The bond king settles for a cinnamon twist and a carrot juice.