Bill Gross is a legend many times over. He's a legendary bond investor, having more or less invented the whole idea that you could make money in the bond market by betting on big economic moves. He's a legendary billionaire, who says that he earned $300 million in 2013 alone, and who spent as much as $100 million just building up his stamp collection. He's also legendary for going utterly batshit on an increasingly regular basis, and peppering his investment letters with long disquisitions on such subjects as "the plumbing of public toilets."
Nothing, however, could have prepared the finance world for the bomb that Gross just dropped on Pimco, the monster investment management firm he founded in 1971. Gross filed a lawsuit today in California, which ostensibly seeks $200 million in damages for wrongful dismissal. But really this is a full-on honey badger move, a scorched-earth lawsuit in which Gross tries to throw pretty much everyone he's ever worked with under the bus, even if it makes himself look completely unhinged.
Gross sets the tone of his lawsuit from the very beginning:
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 Pacific Investment Management Company LLC ("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. Their improper, dishonest, and unethical behavior must now be exposed.
In other words, never mind the money: this lawsuit is about "exposing" the degree to which Gross has a maniacal obsession with the people he used to work with at Pimco. His aim here is to make them look as bad as he possibly can, never mind how he himself comes across.
First up is Mohamed El-Erian, who is described as being "able to witness a 23% return on investment" while he was running the Harvard endowment—in contrast to Gross himself, who "achieved returns at or near double digits" in the 1980s through the 2000s. Gross's implication is that somehow El-Erian just got lucky with timing, even though the single greatest component of Gross's own success was the fact that he was investing money during the greatest era for bond investors the world has ever seen. (Bonds go up in value when interest rates go down, and interest rates basically steadily went down all the way from the early 1980s to the late 2000s.)
Hilariously, Gross simply quotes his own bizarre metaphors in the complaint, as a way of criticizing El-Erian:
El-Erian sought to force PIMCO out of its core focus on bonds and related fixed income securities and instead become a general-purpose investment management firm offering stocks, commodities, real estate, and hedge fund-like products to investors. As time passed, Mr. Gross characterized El-Erian's plan as similar to the extensive and varied menu at a Cheesecake Factory restaurant, while his own favored approach was "bonds and burgers."
None of this is remotely germane for the lawsuit qua lawsuit, of course: mainly it's just Gross getting a bunch of stuff off his chest. I have a mental image of Gross's shrink listening to him rehearse this stuff over and over again. When the shrink tries to gently tell him it's time to move on, Gross responds by firing his therapist and deciding to go public with it all instead.
Much of Gross's story seems to be based in sheer fantasy. El-Erian ended up resigning from Pimco, and is universally understood to have done so because he felt that it was simply impossible for him to work with Gross any longer. In Gross's world, however, El-Erian resigned because Gross offered not to work with El-Erian. Apparently this caused El-Erian to be so apprehensive about having "to bear sole responsibility (and blame) for the high-risk, high-fee investments he had expanded PIMCO into" that he just panicked and quit.
After reading the kind of things that Gross seems to genuinely believe, I can't imagine any institutional investor entrusting their money to him. But Gross doesn't need money, he's out for justice. For instance, he's really upset that a managing director at Pimco, Andrew Balls, wasn't fired for talking about El-Erian to the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal, partly on the grounds that when those articles appeared, they didn't talk enough about Gross's "stellar returns."
But mostly Gross is upset at what he sees as a secret plot by various "co-conspirators" to drive him out of the company he founded. The complaint attempts to detail this plot over many pages, and much of the time his prose reads like a bad pastiche of the Da Vinci Code. ("Ivascyn and the other conspirators had been able to spring their trap. The Executive Committee, composed of those who stood to benefit the most, both financially and in power within PIMCO, hatched their plan to oust PIMCO's founder and leading fixed income investor for over four decades.")
Hilariously, the billionaire Gross, with his $300 million-per-year income, even tries to insult his former colleagues as being "money-driven." Pot, meet kettle: much of the last part of the suit is Gross trying to explain that although he got a $16 million bonus for the first half of 2014, he is still owed $80 million just for the third quarter of 2014, as well as various stock options and equity grants which had yet to vest when he was fired.
It's not clear how Pimco will respond to this suit; so far the firm has tried hard to maintain some semblance of a dignified silence regarding the fact that its founder has clearly lost his marbles. Normally, I would say that because it's in neither party's interest for this suit to go to trial, it won't. But Gross has made it very, very clear that he doesn't really care what's in his own best interest: he's much more interested in going down guns blazing. Which means that this story could, amazingly, continue. Can someone order me some popcorn?