What drives you?

In fact, over the years, Mr. Gross has consistently asked one question of prospective employees: What drives you?

The twist is that they must pick one of three answers: money, power or fame.

Strangely to him, no one has ever picked fame.

“It is the one thing I have always wanted,” he said. “When I was starting out at Pimco in 1972, I told my mother and father that I was going to become the most famous bond manager in the world.”

And this:

At night he will wake up as many as three times to check on global markets, he says.

And this:

“My whole evening is dependent on whether I beat them [Pimco, his former employer],” Mr. Gross said. “You see, I have to prove it all over again. Every day.”

The Landon Thomas Jr. NYT Dealbook post is interesting throughout.  And here is a 2008 profile of Gross.


Clearly, Trump will never work for Mr. Gross.

But if things break right for Trump, it is likely that Trump believes he will have finally hit the trifecta anyways - money, power, and fame.

And yet, somehow, I doubt Mr. Gross cares - Trump will undoubtedly provide possibilities to make money that other candidates simply don't offer, and Mr. Gross might find the time he spends awake at night ever more productive.

Trump already has money, power, and fame. If anything, the Presidency would be a big step down for him in the first two.

Just like Obama, he's entirely ego-driven, and he sees the Oval Office as the Grand Prize that completely proves just how awesome he really is. And just like Obama, if he gets there, he's going to be angry to find out that it's actually a real job - and a big pain in the butt, at that. (Don't worry, I suspect he'll use Obama's solution -- vacation a lot, and blame other people for everything.)

Outrageous that after working 16-18 hour days for weeks and months on end, for the salary of a high-end computer programmer but managing the largest economy on the planet, that someone might take some time off.

Is there any reason to believe that any particular president has taken more time off than others? My understanding was that when GWB retreated to his ranch, that it was generally understood to be a well-deserved holiday, although clearly he would always have been on call the whole time.

"after working 16-18 hour days for weeks and months on end"

It doesn't seem that you two are talking about the same person.

"managing the largest economy on the planet": where does that appear in the Constitution?

You can ignore reality. You cannot avoid the consequences of reality.

What (no one asked this question in 2008) education, experience or knowledge does Obama have on any subject outside prosecuting spurious CRA lawsuits against red-lining banks and getting "John Hancock's" on crank, sidewalk petitions?

Obviously, Obama never read the Constitution.

Anyhow, the correct (based on reality, facts and figures) phrase would be "mismanaging the largest economy on the planet."

He doesn't manage the economy, he manages the executive branch of the government.

But yes, salary of an excellent computer programmer. And you wonder why only rich people run for president?

OK. He's just a monkey who has no authority over anything. And basically just plays golf ALL of the time.

Just curious if you realize what a nutball you sound?

I must have been deluded about something. The reality is that the president takes a short 20-minute meeting before breakfast and then plays video games or golf for the rest of the day. And has nothing whatsoever to do with the economy (but we should still blame him for any problems with the economy, but that's oh so consistent).

If you think I'm off base in the description, please be specific.

"he’s going to be angry to find out that it’s actually a real job"


And how does the market price this "real job?"

By paying him less than half the salary of those who manage a tiny city state just south of Malaysia?

By paying him less than the salary of a rather middling sized corporation?

By paying him the salary of a lower end player in the NHL, NFL or NBA?

Clearly it's not a market-based signal. Maybe it should be?

The salary you earn as president is an order of magnitude less than what you earn after, No sympathy for the small paycheck from me.

The ego has landed.
As in other profiles and news stories, he does not seem like terribly attractive person.
And that kind of "killer" interview question - what exactly is it supposed to reveal?
I am a partner in a small fund management company and we would not want to employ anyone who was especially driven by any of those things.
Would "none of the above" have been an acceptable answer to Gross?
This kind of attitude really sums up what is wrong with so much of the finance industry.

Bill Gross slept in his car when young (was homeless; gross). He picked low lying fruit. He's not today's manager, which rests on the efforts of others like Bogel et al, which is what you are looking for.

Gross comes from a time when people thought a guy could read some things and then form a (reliable, actionable, novel) opinion about the trajectory of future interest rates. He's yesterday's news.

Much of the world still wants impossible predictions though.

Aren't you the "I'm 100% confident everything will continue exactly as it has recently" guy?

No. I don't think anyone is. Though I think the data show that in certain markets continuation, even when it is a bad guess, is better than all the others.

Are you misremembering a study of oil futures? Prior spot price is a better predictor of current spot price than past futures price. A futures price is composed of current price + "ideas." Always dangerous.

In the case of bond yield, same thing.

It was in the context of an AI post about AlphaGo.

You were saying "worry about heart disease not war," I said "worry about heart disease and war," and you expressed the opinion that predictions about the future are essentially impossible AND we should be 100% confident that tail risks are zero. I called that position absurd.

If it's not you, I'd recommend changing your nickname to something reasonably unique.

Ah, that was me. I said decades advanced predictions are impossible. That's supported by science.

Stationarity? Is the domain stable enough for generalizable methods to be derived? In chaotic systems long-range prediction is impossible because of initial-condition sensitivity. In human history, politics and culture, the underlying processes may not be stationary at all.

I certainly don't think unpredictable equals zero. That would be a prediction.

Oh, wrong link above. Though it is a very good one it does not contain that quote. this one does.

If you aren't interested in honestly discussing things, why are you even here? PA is nuts, Nathan is lonely in China. What's your thing? Just like to F with people?

I am boggled. Two serious articles cover the territory we discuss. The correct way to answer me is to read them and then show if and where I err in short summary.

I have read book length treatments on this (Mandelbrot: Misbehavior of Markets, Bernstein: Against the Gods ) and think I am summarizing what I learned from them.

I found the old stream. You are the guy who put my chance of "death by civilization" at 10%!

Of course this all won't make sense to you.

"Another spring of our constitution, that brings a great addition of force to moral sentiments, is the love of fame; which rules, with such uncontrolled authority, in all generous minds, and is often the grand object of all their designs and undertakings. By our continual and earnest pursuit of a character, a name, a reputation in the world, we bring our own deportment and conduct frequently in review, and consider how they appear in the eyes of those who approach and regard us. This constant habit of surveying ourselves, as it were, in reflection, keeps alive all the sentiments of right and wrong, and begets, in noble natures, a certain reverence for themselves as well as others, which is the surest guardian of every virtue."-- David Hume (EPM, Sec. 9, Part 1).

Money and power are achievable goals. Fame...isn't.

I, for example, have no idea who Mr. Gross is.

All I know of him, is that he apparently lifts interview questions from internet dating sites.

I don't understand why fame is less achievable than the others (assuming you control for scarcity). Is it harder to become one of the 1000 most famous people in the world than one of the 1000 richest or most powerful? If so, why?

Who is the 985th richest person in the world?


Not sure your point. It would be hard to rank precisely. But the 985th richest person in the world is quite famous and known by millions of people.

There are hundreds of famous actors, hundreds of famous athletes, hundreds of famous musicians, hundreds of famous politicians...

In the U.S. alone there are 535 congressmen, 50 governors, plus the president and other top officeholders. Once you add in former officeholders and people who unsuccessfully ran for office, you would easily have 1000 U.S. politicians whose name is recognized by at least a few million people each.

You could probably do a good study of this with Google search data.

Who is the Congressman from district 14 of rural West Virginia?

I have no idea.

Then again, one could be Big in Japan.

That's a dumb way to pose the questions. I could also ask "who is the most prominent living person from Philadelphia?" You have no idea, but it I listed some it would be obvious.

Most notorious? Bill Cosby

"who is the most prominent living person from Philadelphia"

Rocky Balboa

If the measure of fame is you, personally, having heard of them, then yeah, it's hard to be famous I suppose. But each of West Virginia's Congressmen (there are only 3, BTW) is surely known by a few million people.

Also, the 985th richest person in the world can buy anything he wants.

Becoming famous might be a lot easier than getting rich, if you consider the diverse ways that people may get famous. Some get famous on the basis of true merits, but there's also the option of just being truly outrageous, and getting famous by offending a lot of people, or treading very close to passing the line with regard to social conventions.

To get rich, however, ignoring that a lot of people get rich by some degree of luck or a degree of inherited access to pulling strings, generally to be in the 1000 richest people you have to create a lot of real value for a lot of people.

For example, perhaps I could become among the most famous 1000 people by documenting experiences of parading around state legislatures in a male thong, which is trivially easy to do. And then start releasing formulaic pop videos on Youtube which use the documentation to make music videos. OK, maybe that precise formula wouldn't make it to the top 1000, but it suffices to say, that the desire to be famous can often be easy to act upon than the desire to be rich.

If you're talking about fame based on substantive achievements, such as in sport, science, politics, etc., then I think that's an entirely different story.

It's easy to get temporarily famous. It's also probably easy to get temporarily rich. Rob a bank in a major city and you'll accomplish both.

It's vastly harder to be famous than rich. Something like one person in thirty in the US has more than a million in liquid assets and one in three hundred more than five million. There aren't a million famous Americans.

Getting rich in the US requires (1) caring about getting rich so you devote some time and effort to it and don't just promptly spend everything you make, and (2) time. I.e., it's mostly a function of saving rate, assuming a level of earning most college grads can achieve.

I don't know the recipe for getting famous. If I did, I would avoid following that recipe.

$5 million makes more sense than $1 million as the minimum threshold for "rich." The conventional wisdom is that you shouldn't spend more than 3% of your net worth per year if you want to sustain your wealth until the end of your life. $1 million implies $30,000 per year. Once capital gains and income taxes are taken out of that, you have maybe $20-$25,000 of extra money to play with that year. If you have $1 million and are not eligible for Social Security, you would be very well-advised to not quit your day job.

Well the fundamental injustice there is that the guy with zero in the bank and a $100k salary pays much more in taxes.

"Well the fundamental injustice there is that the guy with zero in the bank and a $100k salary pays much more in taxes."

I don't think you understand what "more" means.

Fame is totally achievable. Take an AK-47 to some random stock holders' meeting. Start stacking bodies in your off-site storage facility. Smuggle tons to coke to support your car start-up factory in Northern Ireland.

Endless possibilities.

The bottom line is not to employ people motivated by fame.

He seems a bit of a mental case.

What kind of person wants to be the most famous bond manager in the world?

John Bogle\Vanguard are the only institutions in the financia world I would trust with my money.

It's a bit like saying: I will become the most famous podiatrist .... IN THE WORLD!

I will become the most famous person....IN JAPAN!

If fame is his goal then bond manager is clearly the wrong job.

It depends on his skills.

He has succeeded though. Bill Gross is probably the second-most famous bond manager in the western world, after Michael Milken.

I can't decide whether it's Gordon Gekko or George Soros...

Alan Greenspan is the most famous bond manager ever. Janet Yellen is the most famous current one.

If you were to ask me to name a bond manager, he'd probably be the first I think of because he was the only one I was aware of; at least until I've become a recent fan of Howard Marks who specializes in distressed debt (I'm assuming that counts).

Celebrity culture meeting reality tv has loweredthe value of fame considerably, especially when it doesn't include fortune. Someone who craves fame above all is not going to go into finance unless they intend to buy it, which implies that like Gross, though he doesn't realize it, he probably wouldn't pick fame either.

also Andy Warhol's everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes has been internalized by children not yet born when Gross started.

And finally Nick Leeson is famous, as is John Hinkley, and I guess Herostratus...

" I was going to become the most famous bond manager in the world...."

Bond manager? The most famous bond manager in the world? How many bond managers are there? Wouldn't being the most famous cake decorator or most famous piano tuner be a similar status? This bozo has an infantile mentality.

No, if you are well-known in finance, you can get book deals, invitations to all kinds of fancy, exclusive events around the world, high-paying speaking engagements, cushy consulting or board membership gigs, etc.

By the way, the nice thing about being a professional public speaker is that it is a great fall back option if your first-choice career ends in scandal or criminal charges. Jordan Belfort (a.k.a. the guy portrayed in "The Wolf of Wall Street") does quite well as a public speaker these days and there are many others whose careers in finance ended in disgrace who followed a similar path. If you think there is a chance you could one day be bankrupted by lawsuits or fines and legally barred from any position of power or normal career, being somewhat well-known is the ultimate insurance policy against poverty and total ruin because of the opportunities it opens up through speaking or publishing.

Jordan Belfort and Hillary Clinton.

The most famous Bond manager in the world is M. Admittedly, that's a title, not a person, so I'll go with Judi Dench.... No, Bernard Lee.

I would've said fame. But there are a lot of obscure things I would prefer being over a famous bond manager.

"they must pick one of three answers: money, power or fame": wot, no wine, women and song?

If you're motivated by fame, "world's most famous bond fund manager" seems like right sort to aspire to. Among his peers in the bond industry, I assume Gross is treated as something of a demi-god. But outside the industry, few people have heard of him and still fewer would recognize his face (or care even in the off chance that they did), so he can go about his life in peace and anonymity.

This a hell of a lot more honest than most hiring managers. "Oh yes, I have a real passion for paper clips, I've always wanted to be a paperclip accountant!"
Are you kidding me? Show me the money.

The answer "sex" was not allowed?

"In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women. "
-Tony Montana

"I'm telling you, it's jobs. We gotta get jobs. Then we get the khakis. Then we get the chicks." -Joe "Coop" Cooper

How about respect within the profession and the community? Or is that too pro-social in this guy's world view?

How about understanding?

Of course, Gross was a success because interest rates have trended downward since the mid-1980s (with the occasional spike followed by inevitable fall and return to the trend) when Chairman Volcker sent rates to historic highs to tame inflation (and wage increases) and sent the economy reeling. Did Gross make an analytical (and prescient) long-term forecast of a falling interest rate environment (flat or falling wages and, hence, low or no inflation, globalization of production resulting in higher company profits, increasing inequality and demand for financial assets by a growing class of wealthy investors) and bet on bonds as the most profitable response? Or was it dumb luck? If the economy experiences long-term cycles (isn't that what's taught?), won't the trend for interest rates reverse itself and settle in for a long period of increases with the occasional fall followed by a return to the trend? If that's true, then the bond king will likely lose his kingdom.

As someone who actually knew who Gross was in the early 80s, I can tell you that not many knew that trend would run so long. I doubt even Gross expected it, but he did navigate it better than almost all his peers.

As for the future trend- who knows- but it is doubtful that Gross lives long enough to have to prove success in the reverse.

Gross became famous (such as it is) as a bond manager not because he was active in a market that rallied for 30+ years. He became famous for outperforming all the other guys in the same market. They also benefitted from the rally. And also because he was very good at self-promotion, thus attracting a massive amount of money to PIMCO.

Madoff is pretty famous. Perhaps in the top 1000, probably even top 200 in the USA. But I don't imagine he intended it that way.

There is a reason we have a different word for that.


“My whole evening is dependent on whether I beat them [Pimco, his former employer],” Mr. Gross said. “You see, I have to prove it all over again. Every day.”

And yet "ego" isn't one of the three choices he allows his prospectives.

Gross made some very bad calls while running the Pimco Total Return Fund. He bet on higher interest rates back in 2009 when everyone knew that rates were going down and he missed one of the great bond rallies of all time (I got terribly burned by holding the fund longer than I should have). There was a huge outflow of money from Pimco and I think this was contributory to his being let go. As to being the most famous bond manager of all time, phooey on that. There are a bunch of folks running sound bond funds that don't look to be in the newspapers everyday. Part of Gross's 'fame' is the tepid financial press who are always looking for 'heroes' rather than just covering the fundamentals.

That Mr. Gross has an ongoing grudge against Pimco should send up a red flag for prospective investors. The goal is to maximize shareholder returns and not obsess about what your former employer is doing.

His big mistakes were around 2011, not 2009.

@AlanG: exactly. Not sure I want my money managed by someone whose primary motivation is revenge.

How is his new fund doing in comparison anyway?

Is Gross a Hungry Ghost at this point?

I get that this is maybe kinda sorta unusual. But the desire for fame and glory isn't new, and Bill Gross ain't exactly an Achilles. Isn't talking about "fame" within the sphere of commerce sort of pathetic?

Replace "fame" with "status" and ask the question again. Guess what...

Fame would be nice, but I'll settle for money.

Aside: I think limiting answers to those three things is unfairly restrictive. I think a lot of people (such as myself) have goals that are not easily defined as "money, power, or fame". I would describe myself as in pursuit of experience. Money is one means to afford experiences. Fame is another kind of experience. Power is another kind of experience, but you can't really buy either one (unless you have a LOT of money).
But in general, if something offers me new experiences, I'm probably going to go for it, even if it pays less. Sometimes you get paid in cool.

Not to say that isn't a good answer, but I bet it wouldn't get you hired by Gross.

Fame is a bit of a loaded word, due to the celebrity connotation. I think of it as reknown. And quite a lot of people want to be famous, but not generally famous. Academics are a good example of this. If you don't know who Jennifer Doudna is, she probably doesn't care - but she's famous within the circles she cares about.

Tyler, do you run this blog, for money, power or fame?

The Pope and the Bernie Sanders of the world like to prattle on about how awful it is to worship money, the devil's dung, and how life is about more than money as if there was some distinction between people "who want to make the world a better place" and everyone else who is not so fatuous. My guess is that no one worships money, not even the people who respond to the question, and that just about everything anyone does in their work in some way makes the world a better place or else there would be no reward in it. All this gratuitous impugning of various forms of motivation is in the end pointless. Whatever the motivation might be, at the end of day, the only relevant question is whether the job got done.

What if the Pope and Bernie Sanders don't want the job to ever get done...so that they can always have a job complaining that the job never gets done?

The perverse incentive of the do-gooders is that no good ever gets done, because if good is done, then there's no more reason for the do-gooders to exist.

That's pretty cynical even for this place. I mean, incentives matter sure, but I bet most oncologists would be pretty happy if someone cured cancer.

Oncologists are in it for the money. Oncologists also know that there's 16,000 types of cancers, and they can't all be cured by the same thing. And someone has to administer the cure anyway, and diagnose the cancer, and check up on the patient etc. Cure or no cure, they will continue to make money because this isn't an actual problem that...can...be solved.

Bernie/Pope are in it because they want people to pay attention to Bernie/Pope.

So yes, in way, they all want to keep themselves relevant. How that translates for do-gooders...imho...can often be perverse. What's that mental condition where the mother wants to make her child sick so that she can remain relevant? I forget the name of it.

Munchausen by proxy. And it's vanishingly rare. Pretty different from 'they all want to'.

I'm not saying there's a bit of that in there, but most do-gooders want to do good, even if we don't always agree that's what they are doing.

Most do-gooders just want to be heard and seen. Most are narcissists who want to signal that they are better, because they care about stuff.

Not all. Just most.

Of course, Bernie and the Pope are the extreme examples...I recognize that. But for them, the perverse incentive of them being more "popular" the worst things get, is not something that is easy lost.

The exact same thing, BTW applies to Trump and the idiotic conservative talk show hosts. The better things get, the more irrelevant they become, so they need to continue to claim that things are getting worst.

If one's whole reason for relevance is to "fix problems", then one needs to have problems to fix, even if one has to invent them.

This was in reply to msgkings above.

And yeah, I seem pretty cynical. I'm not, really, because I think things are mostly always getting better. But that's also why I don't give a c**p about these social causes or "doing good", and find people who do, to be phony baloney. I actually do think that Bernie and this Pope actually are irrelevant.

I don't think most, more likely, a small minority. Actually, I don't really care what the motives are. Results matter.

Comments for this post are closed