Would have done 'things differently': El-Erian

Mohamed El-Erian expected to go quietly. The one-time heir apparent to Pimco investment chief Bill Gross had no idea leaving the firm would create a firestorm, and he gave no real consideration to staying on and working less.

In his most extensive discussion yet about his controversial decision in January to leave Pimco, which has nearly $2 trillion in assets, El-Erian told Reuters: "If I had known that there would be this media circus, I would've done a lot of things differently."

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To begin with, he might have considered working part time.

Mohamed El-Erian, former chief executive officer and co-chief investment officer of Pacific Investment Management Company LLC.
Pete Marovich | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Mohamed El-Erian, former chief executive officer and co-chief investment officer of Pacific Investment Management Company LLC.

"Was there a way of not going 100 miles an hour and maybe going 50 miles an hour? To be perfectly honest, I didn't explore that option. I never explored it," he said, describing his management style as trying to work as hard or harder than anyone else. A part-time position would have felt "inconsistent" with his style, he said.

El-Erian's departure rocked the investment world, where he was seen as the successor to "Bond King" Gross. Questions arose about the relationship between the two, and plans at Pimco, a unit of German financial services giant Allianz.

His reason for leaving is a cliche of departing executives: the wish to spend more time with family. El-Erian said that he decided it was more important to be a good dad than a good investor.

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He realized he needed a change in May 2013, after his then-10-year-old daughter wrote him a list of 22 milestone events in her life he had missed.

In the wake of El-Erian's resignation, Pimco named six deputy chief investment officers, reporting to Gross, who is 70. Previously, there were no other CIOs but Gross and El-Erian.

Pimco investors, who this year have pulled $25 billion from Gross' Flagship Pimco Total Return Fund, the world's largest bond fund, have also been rattled by the shakeup.

Shortly after El-Erian left Pimco, reports surfaced of a highly personal schism between the two long-time colleagues. In March, Gross made several remarks to Reuters questioning El-Erian's investment record and alleged that El-Erian was trying to "undermine" him.

In his interview at Reuters headquarters in New York on Monday, El-Erian declined repeatedly to discuss Gross, beyond describing his former partner as brilliant.

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While no longer at Pimco, El-Erian has retained a post with Allianz, serving in the newly minted role of chief economic adviser, where El-Erian said he spends "50 percent of my time and I love it."

El-Erian said he has "no interaction" with Pimco in his new role, even though Allianz has offices near Pimco's Newport Beach, California, headquarters. "That is the right approach to allow for the new leadership, who I respect greatly. None of what I do at Allianz has any connection to them."