(Bloomberg) -- The new Bill Gross isn't the one who bent markets to his will at Pimco, 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 to be a world-class jerk who'd lost his touch.
Some things haven't changed, though. He 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. 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 on 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% as of June 1, ranking it behind 78% of similar funds, including the comparable Pimco Unconstrained Bond Fund, with its return of 0.9%.
Nowadays, Gross's flyspeck empire pales next to the $1.6 trillion Pimco. He manages $1.5 billion - less than 1% of what he used to - and much of that money is his own. He works out of a sparsely populated building in Newport Beach, Calif., not far from his former headquarters. His entire operation - Gross and four support staff - could fit into a conference room at Pimco.
Gross insists he's not trying to build another Pimco. He doubts anyone could. And he readily admits he never had much interest in the day-to-day grind of managing people. "I just wanted to run money and be famous," he says. That no one could replicate Pimco - and Gross's decades there - is what makes what he did so extraordinary, he says. "I was always that way; I will go to the extreme to be special," Gross says.
Ever since he was young, Gross says, he has tried to do things others couldn't or wouldn't do, such as spending three months at Las Vegas blackjack tables - 16 hours a day, seven days a week - or running six marathons in six days. "Pimco was that in the extreme; nobody's done this before, and nobody's going to do this again," he says.
Post-Pimco, Gross is trying to keep up appearances. He's doing regular television and radio spots. And he's writing a monthly investment outlook similar to the one he did at Pimco.
He also seems keenly aware of his stage in life, even likening himself to the aging NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who, like Gross, is approaching the twilight of his career, with all the mental and physical baggage that comes with the territory.
Gross's new boss at Denver-based Janus, CEO Dick Weil, calls him that company's Peyton Manning, referring to the Denver Broncos quarterback known for his pre-snap histrionics and Jedi knight cool.
That comparison may be apt. Manning once said: "I would like to think I will be the guy who knows when it's time to stop. I don't want to be a guy who hung on and hung on."
Gross gets that. "If you can be actually honest with yourself, which I don't think anybody can ever be, there comes a point where you would know, hopefully - to be crass about it - that you're losing it, that you're making mistakes, you're not as focused as you used to be," he says.
"That hasn't come yet, but I know that happens to people in their 70s and 80s. That's how the cookie crumbles. So far, I think I'm OK."
Gross is thinking about Pimco again. "I should know better," he says. "I'm a wimp. I didn't stand up for myself." He goes on: "It's like an alcoholic. You never stop believing people will like you if you concede this and concede that."
At Rose Bakery Cafe, south of Malibu, a young man behind the counter recognizes him. Turns out, the kid has an internship at Morgan Stanley and says he's coming to hear Gross speak at an upcoming event.
"Well, come up and say hi afterwards," Gross tells him. "Don't listen too closely." - Bloomberg News.
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