On her nightly drive home from DoubleLine, Bonnie Baha's first call was always to her family to take requests for dinner.
"Where did she find the time? I have no clue," said Mustapha Baha, Bonnie's husband of 31 years.
Her neighbors and peers outside asset management knew her only as a loving mother and wife, not the high profile finance leader who helped build a multi billion-dollar investment mangement firm and recognized last year in Money Management Executive's Top Women in Asset Management Awards.
In the eight months following her death after she was hit by a car at age 56, Mustapha says she is still responsible for their family's unity. In the workplace, DoubleLine founder Jeffrey Gundlach speaks of Baha with similar praise.
If it weren't for her hiring expertise, Gundlach says the bond behemoth would not have managed as well.
"As tragic as the situation was in August, if it had happened to [DoubleLine] five years earlier, it would've been almost fatal to the firm," Gundlach said.
Baha co-managed DoubleLine's $285.5 million Floating Rate fund (DBFRX), the $150 million Multi-Asset Growth fund (DMLIX), the $2.1 billion Income Solutions fund (DSL), the $344.5 million Opportunistic Credit fund (DBL) as well as the newly launched Ultra Short Bond fund (DBLUX) at the time of her death.
At DoubleLine, which manages $105 billion in assets, she was also a key member of its fixed-income asset allocation committee, which determined the weightings of more than $20 billion in portfolios to different sectors of the fixed-income universe; such as developed market bonds and loans, emerging markets debt, Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities.
However, most importantly to Gundlach, Baha had a keen sensibility for hiring, he said.
When she joined DoubleLine from TCW Group in December 2009, the firm went from no capabilities in below-investment-grade U.S. corporate credit to running billions of dollars of it in the firm's portfolios, Gundlach said.
"We had to start by hiring one person, then two people, then three people. Then, as our assets grew and we became accepted as below-investment-grade managers, we had to really make sure we had full service," he said. "We hired 16 people in four years. That was her job: To make sure that the group was fully functional and complete with all of the types of redundancies that you need to run an operation on an ongoing basis. She was just fantastic at it."
She worked alongside Gundlach for nearly 26 years.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Outside of work, he recalled company picnics Baha held at her home; something he says reflected her dedication to the firm and her colleagues.
"At first it was small group, then it was a less-small group, and then it was a big group. That was really kind of defining about how Bonnie felt [about DoubleLine]," Gundlach said. "It was all her idea. She had a taco truck for the first one, I remember."
At one of the last company picnics she hosted, Gundlach recalls someone showing up with a custom-made shirt bearing the company logo. "It was such a hit that ever since then we have had thousands of them made, and basically I wear one most days of the week," he said. "It's my DoubleLine uniform, now. People think I'm overly casual, but we're proud of the identity of the firm, and she had a lot to do with that."
Over the years, Baha left her mark on both her colleagues and business partners. Jacob Navon, a partner at Westwood Partners, an executive recruiting firm, and longtime friend of Baha's, first got to know her nearly 14 years ago when he talked to her in conjunction with a search he was doing at the time.
"Bonnie was that quintessential contradiction in terms that is evinced by many successful women on Wall Street," Navon said. "On the one hand, she carried herself with that tough, no nonsense, don't mess with me demeanor that they have to adopt in order to be treated with the appropriate respect by their male colleagues. On the other, you could not find [someone] more empathetic."
For Mary Childs, a former Bloomberg and Financial Times reporter currently writing a book, Baha was a vital source on several occasions throughout her career. Childs recalled speaking with her for last-minute interviews when no one else would.
"She was fearless," Childs said. "I would genuinely turn to her when I had no one else. She spoke real English, with flair."
As a journalist, Childs said the relationship was invaluable. "Bonnie helped teach me so much about my job and the way everything worked without making it seem like she was teaching me," Childs said. "She has a way of getting the point across without making me feel inferior, and for me it gave me enough time and space to learn."
MORE THAN A MENTOR
DoubleLine National Accounts Director Katherine Ali recalled similar experiences in her own career.
"With some perspective, and the benefit of time, I can now look back and see how supportive she was of not only me, but other women we worked with," Ali said. "Without prompting, she would often ask how things were going for me professionally - asking about a new client or a relationship I was working on and whether I needed help with anything, even if it was out of the scope of her official duties as a portfolio manager."
As a sub-adviser for TCW while Baha was with the firm, Crescent Capital Portfolio Manager Melissa Weiler worked with her on fixed income. "Bonnie was brutally honest, but what made her special was that she was a very good listener," Weiler said. "The nature of her personality was very approachable ... and she was just a very unique person, unlike anyone I have been associated with in business."
Monica Erickson, a portfolio manager at DoubleLine's credit research unit, joined Baha at TCW in 2007 and was among her first five team members at the firm. Erickson says she will always remember their time together and how well she managed her own, both at home and at work.
"She showed me that it was about finding that balance and understanding that you can actually do a good job even with the responsibilities of raising a family," Erickson said. "I was just so fortunate to have had her as a boss."
Baha's colleagues noted her confidence, especially when it came to making unpopular calls. In the first week of 2008, she advised TCW traders to sell their shares in Lehman Brothers at a time when the debt was valued at 90 cents a share, according to Bloomberg. Lehman filed for bankruptcy Sept. 15, 2008.
Mustapha, Baha's husband and who is a venture capitalist and director at Pasadena Angels, recalled the impact that advice had on his own portfolio.
"People talk about the Lehman Brothers issue, but what you don't understand is that she knew that I was a stock holder," Mustapha said, laughing as he recalled the memory. "She never told me to sell. I lost a lot of money that day. She just looked at me and said, 'I'm sorry, honey.' "
When it came to detecting mega Wall Street meltdowns, Baha was no one-hit wonder. In 2012, she sent an email to Gundlach on the trading floor, asking that he cut ties with a firm counterpart, MF Global Holdings, noting "concerns about overall risk management and governance," Bloomberg reported. At the time, DoubleLine traders objected to the suggestion, noting that they had done nearly $5.4 billion in business with the firm in the third quarter.
The next day, DoubleLine ended ties with MF Global, which filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 31 of that year.
The accident occurred at 1 p.m. on a clear day on Aug. 21, 2016. Baha was crossing a four-lane Charlottesville, Virginia street with her husband and daughter, Miriam Baha, from a parking lot to a nearby mall while visiting their son at the University of Virginia. The driver, a 75-year-old local man, was later found guilty of reckless driving.
During the service, Mustapha recalled a telling encounter with a longtime neighbor. As a family, Mustapha, Bonnie and the kids had visited the neighbor's house on several occasions. Despite Baha's high-profile position, Mustapha was surprised to learn the neighbor was unaware of her world outside of their family.
The neighbor "came to me at the end of the service and said, 'I didn't know Bonnie was a working professional,' " Mustapha said. He remembered her saying, " 'I always thought she was a housewife. She would always talk about the kids and about her recipes.' "
This, he says, was part of Baha's essence. Her focus was always on their daughter and son. "But to the point that this lady, who we have known for years, not knowing that Bonnie went to work every day and thought she was a housewife, it really astounded me," he recalled. "This is how she was."
Her friends, both in and outside of her professional life, also knew Bonnie and her passion for cooking, he said. It was something Mustapha says was one way she connected with those around her, without alienating them with her title of DoubleLine executive.
During the month of Ramadan, Mustapha, a practicing Muslim, recalled how his wife would come home from work, tired from her day, and cook an authentic meal that started with soup; but not just any kind of soup.
"She really learned how to cook an Algerian soup, just to make sure my Ramadan would be close to the Ramadan that I was used to back home," he said.
Baha's daughter Miriam says she can no longer eat mashed potatoes.
"That was always my job; to be the mashed potatoes tester," Miriam said, remembering the days after work when her mother would call about dinner. "To this day, I can try other mashed potatoes, but they're all just too bland."
Baha learned to speak French and Algerian, Mustapha said. "Though not perfectly, she was good enough to communicate with my mom and other siblings, who sometimes she would even call all the way back home in North Africa, just to check on her.
"She would do this from TCW or DoubleLine, from work," he recalled. "She would say, 'By the way, your mother says 'hi.' That's the type of person she was. She remembered everyone."