Management Isn't For Everyone - And That's Okay

Dec 9, 2014
5 Min Read

Who would step down as the CEO of one of the most influential financial institutions in the world? Bill Gross, that’s who.

Even if you’re not intimately familiar with the bond market, you’ve probably heard of powerhouse bond house Pimco and its founder Bill Gross.

Gross, known internationally as the “Bond King,” made headlines last month when he quit the house he founded over 40 years ago for a far less lucrative position managing a new fund at Janus Capital. Allegedly, he tired of the constant clashes with other members of the Pimco management team.

Good riddance!

One might expect that Gross would be devastated, his ego battered and bruised. But instead, the creator of a $200 billion fund told Barrons that he was thrilled to give up his management responsibilities.

“I was always an investment guy, and the other stuff – hiring, paying people, planning, and so on – became a problem for me,” he said.  “I am uniquely exuberant about clearing all that stuff off my dish. I’ll still be intense, but the intensity and decibel level drop a bit in a smaller place. Also, common sense suggests that it will be easier to implement ideas in a $100 million portfolio than in a fund with more than $200 billion.”

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes

This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite quotes this year. It illustrates that Bill Gross knows himself, and also recognizes that leadership and contribution don’t require a CEO title. Not everyone is cut out for – or enjoys – the tremendous challenges and pace associated with running a large organization. Not everyone wants to lose the day-to-day participation in the projects they love in favor of becoming a generalist removed to the boardroom.

Some, depending on their personalities and work styles, will be far happier and more effective operating on a smaller scale, or even as individual contributors with no direct reports.

We’ve been taught since birth that we should always be climbing – trying to get from A to B to C – when in fact that’s a very personal choice. Career paths in the 21st century are highly individualized, and what is right for your neighbor or your mentor might not be right for you.

Saying no to CEO

I’ve turned down promotions in favor of lateral moves so that I could acquire more diverse experiences and skills, and more recently I made a Bill Gross-like move by stepping away from an opportunity to grow my business.

The move would require me to focus more on administration and finance than providing direct assistance to the people who inspired me to get into this line of work in the first place. And as most of you know, I’m also raising two young children. CEOs don’t generally have much time for family life, and that’s not acceptable to me.

As I told some of my colleagues, “forging an empire is not in the cards. A comfortable salary, publishing books and articles, and speaking to audiences who can use my advice are all I need.” And the thing is, I genuinely feel this way. My inner sense of power comes from helping people, not from controlling the huge global chess board of the modern organization.

There’s nothing wrong with my point of view and Bill Gross’, they’re just different. And if the decisions we’ve made resonate with you, don’t assume the “boss track” is a foregone conclusion. How you leverage your unique talents is up to you, not anyone else.

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