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Augusta Tradition Has World Bank Parallel, El-Erian Says

Augusta National Golf Club’s exclusion of women as members has a parallel to U.S. domination of the World Bank, according to Pacific Investment Management Co.’s Mohamed A. El-Erian.

“There are places where traditions are used to maintain practices that are totally outdated,” El-Erian, chief executive officer at Pimco, manager of the world’s biggest bond fund, said in a telephone interview today. “My 8-year-old daughter was very surprised when she heard that Augusta doesn’t allow women as members,” El-Erian said in a separate “In the Loop” interview with Betty Liu on Bloomberg Television.

The U.S. is the bank’s largest shareholder and has always picked the bank’s president, a tradition since the end of World War II that’s now being disputed by rival candidates. Augusta National, the private golf course founded in Georgia in 1933 and home of the Masters Tournament that ended yesterday, has maintained its all-male membership policy even after Virginia “Ginni” Rometty became the first female chief executive officer of International Business Machines Corp.

IBM’s CEO traditionally dons the club’s signature green member blazer at the tournament, as do the CEOs of co-sponsors Exxon Mobil Corp. and AT&T Inc.

A group of former World Bank officials, including one-time chief economist Francois Bourguignon, supports Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy to become the lender’s president. The 39 former managers, in a letter sent to the bank’s members, have cited Okonjo-Iweala’s “deep experience in international and national issues of economic management” and said she has the ability to increase the bank’s effectiveness. Okonjo-Iweala was a managing director at the bank until August.

U.S. Nominee

The U.S. nominee, Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim, has received an endorsement from countries including Canada and Japan. Another candidate is former Colombian Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo. The World Bank will interview the three candidates today through April 11 and plans to announce its decision next week.

“We have three highly qualified candidates,” said El-Erian, a former deputy director at the International Monetary Fund, in the phone interview “They are highly qualified, but they are not equal.”

President Barack Obama’s spokesman and Mitt Romney, the potential Republican Party challenger, said April 5 that Augusta National should admit female members. Edward Barbini, a spokesman for Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM, said “IBM has no comment” when asked about the company’s Masters sponsorship and whether the statements by the Obama spokesman, Jay Carney, and Romney had changed its position. The club extended an invitation in 1990 to its first African-American member, Gannett Co. television President Ron Townsend.

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