Pimco Said to Have Considered Goldman’s Cohn for Top Job

How Close Was Pimco to Hiring Goldman's Cohn?

Pacific Investment Management Co. considered recruiting Gary Cohn, president of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., as a top executive in 2013, people with knowledge of the matter said.

Cohn was on a short list of potential candidates to succeed Mohamed El-Erian as chief executive officer, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks were private. At the time, Pimco and Bill Gross were working on a succession plan that included a smaller role for Gross, who co-founded the firm in 1971, the people said.

A move by Cohn would have deprived Lloyd C. Blankfein of his top deputy and one of his most likely successors. Cohn, 54, the only bank employee other than Blankfein on the board of directors, is considered among a group of executives who could replace the 60-year-old CEO when he retires. In an October 2013 Bloomberg Television interview, Cohn said he was happy in his current job and wanted to remain in it.

While Pimco’s idea of hiring Cohn never progressed beyond informal conversations, he stood to increase his compensation substantially.

Pimco paid El-Erian a bonus of about $230 million in 2013 as part of an executive profit-sharing plan as the firm’s assets approached $2 trillion. Cohn was awarded $26.9 million for 2013, according to the Bloomberg Pay Index, which values an executive’s compensation as of the company’s fiscal year end. Since 2012, he’s taken home about $61.7 million, which includes salary and cash bonuses, as well as vested stock and exercised options that were granted in previous years, the index shows.

Double Departures

Mark Porterfield, a spokesman for Newport Beach, California-based Pimco, declined to comment. Cohn, who is based in New York, declined to comment through a spokesman.

Pimco’s unofficial search for the next leader of the $1.6 trillion asset manager was marred by internal turmoil, ending in the departures of both El-Erian and Gross last year. The upheaval spurred record redemptions at the firm in 2014 and prompted a reshuffling of management amid declining returns in the bond market.

El-Erian, who also shared the role of co-chief investment officer with Gross, informed Pimco in late 2013 that he was going to leave, and Gross offered to step back instead, Bloomberg News reported in December. El-Erian, a contributor to Bloomberg View, stuck with his decision and on Jan. 21, 2014, announced his resignation.

Management Overhaul

Pimco overhauled its management after El-Erian left, naming Douglas Hodge CEO and creating six deputy CIOs who reported to Gross. Still, tensions within the firm worsened. By September, Gross’s clashes with management created a divide that eventually forced him to leave rather than suffer the indignity of being fired.

Cohn, as president and chief operating officer at Goldman Sachs, has experience in both bond trading and asset management. He meets weekly with the two co-heads of the firm’s investment management unit, which surpassed $1.1 trillion in assets last year. Cohn previously oversaw the fixed-income trading division, which counts Pimco among its biggest clients.

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