Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change
Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

Here's why everybody is talking about Pimco

Bill Gross responds to WSJ portrayal

Public shouting matches. A tense working atmosphere. A man at the top running amok.

These are not the things one usually associates with Pimco, the world's largest bond manager with $1.9 trillion under management and the largest single fund that alone boasts $237 billion. However, that's the portrait that emerged from a scathing profile Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal that paints a firm in turmoil following the departure of its high-profile CEO Mohamed El-Erian.

Bill Gross, the firm's co-founder, is shown in an unflattering light in the article, though he disputed the portrayal in a Tuesday afternoon interview with CNBC.

"All this discourse about an autocratic style from my standpoint and conflict between Mohammed and myself is overblown," Gross said during an interview on "Street Signs."

El-Erian's departure reportedly came after a series of clashes with Gross, himself also a very visible face of the firm and its chief investment officer.

"I'm tired of cleaning up your s---," El-Erian told Gross at one point, according to the Journal, which reported that El-Erian demanded Gross treat employees better.

Turmoil at Pimco?

In an interview Tuesday afternoon with CNBC, Gross disputed the characterizations in the article

He scoffed at one accusation that he demands near-total silence in the office, telling CNBC he once led a conga line to a rock song.

This hasn't been a happy time at the Newport Beach, Calif.-based firm, which for years had been the gold standard in the fixed income trade. Investors have been yanking money from the firm over the past year, with the Total Return Fund losing $41.1 billion alone in 2013, according to Morningstar.

For his part, Gross acknowledged being a demanding boss, saying in a statement to the Journal that "I ask of others only what I demand of myself: hard work, dedication and intense focus on putting our clients first."

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Bill Gross: Our atmosphere is competitive, but typical

The Total Return mutual fund has gained 1.5 percent in 2014, about level with its benchmark. It has delivered annualized returns of 6.8 percent over the past five years, nearly 2 percentage points better than the Barclays U.S. Bond Aggregate index, Morningstar data shows.

(Read more: Gross on Pimco: Better 'than we were before')

However, the firm's wrong-way bet on Treasurys as the Federal Reserve managed to keep interest rates low dented Pimco's standing, and the results seem to have spilled over into the workplace.

Mohamed El-Erian and Bill Gross
Pete Marovich (L) | Andrew Harrer (R) | Getty Images

The Journal profile rippled through social media Tuesday morning. Venture capitalist and Web browser pioneer Marc Andreesen, though not personally acquainted with Gross, fired off a 12-part tweet saying, in part, that the behavior described in the Journal article is characteristic of any high-functioning workplace and top executive.

Andreesen tweet1


"I had a terrific experience there," Neel Kashkari, a former Pimco executive who left in 2013 to run for California governor, told the Journal.

Read the full Journal story here.

—By CNBC's Jeff Cox. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxCNBCcom.