John Wilson says he never studied economics and financial markets at university.
And that, he says, has enabled him and his colleagues build bond-investor Pacific Investment Management’s assets in Australia to $32 billion in 15 years.
“I understand what we sell to people is belief,” says Wilson, who looks more like an art-gallery owner with his stubbly, short grey beard, matching haircut and clear square framed JF Rey spectacles.
At 50 years of age, Wilson still has an air of boyish playfulness about him. He’s provocative, asking this interviewer as many questions as he is asked, and teasing: “where’s the hat? There it is, thank god”.
This impression is reinforced after Wilson describes a slew of sporting activities, gallery visiting and part-time university study he undertakes.
He plays fullback or centre on a Mosman over-45 years rugby team that are world champions in their age group. Peter FitzSimons is a teammate.
Wilson surfs at Manly and Freshwater on a 9’-2”-board with a mate whom he describes as “Scotland’s only surfer”.
He is doing a master’s in history to go on top of undergraduate law and history degrees from the University of Melbourne and a LLM from North Carolina’s Duke University.
Wilson met his wife at Duke Law School. They went to New York, where Wilson worked at blue-blood law firm Sherman & Sterling on the Brady bond program for Latin America. He left Sherman & Sterling to work at Morgan Stanley Asset Management.
He returned to Australia to work in BT’s international equities division alongside future colleague, Peter Dorrian. Wilson then moved to Oppenheimer Capital, an asset manager that Pimco acquired.
“There were no vendors in global fixed income when I joined Pimco,” says Wilson. “We were the ones who gave people a narrative as to why they should invest in overseas bonds.”
Pimco now has 21 Australian-based staff with 104 Australian institutional clients. Rockhampton-born Wilson takes care of the firm’s 12 Queensland clients and was crowing about the Maroons’ May 23 State of Origin victory.
“Go Queensland!” he shouts.
Pimco is not a member of any financial-industry body. Wilson says industry groups are important but the company simply does not have the resources to devote time to do such organisations justice.
“We’re not here to try and impress our peers,” says Wilson. “The people who matter to us are the people who hired us.”
For its Australian clients, Pimco manages $15 billion in global bonds, $11 billion in Australian bonds and $6 billion in risk and credit management overlays that help funds manage risk.
“The core of the business is around investing,” says Wilson, who doesn’t drink coffee after 11 am. “Everything in moderation,” he says. “Don’t you agree?”
Fixed-income allocations by superannuation funds are moderate, as low as 10 per cent in some portfolios, compared with about 35 per cent when Wilson began work for Pimco a decade and a half ago.