Bill Gross says he diagnosed his own Asperger’s while reading ‘The Big Short’

(Marketwatch) -- Investing legend Bill Gross retired on Friday with the bombshell revelation that he has the autism-spectrum-disorder condition commonly known as Asperger syndrome, telling Bloomberg TV:

‘I’m an Asperger, and Aspergers can compartmentalize. They can operate in different universes without the other universes affecting them as much. Yeah, I had a nasty divorce, and I still had, you know, feelings about Pimco. But I think I did pretty well in compartmentalizing them. Not that I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night and start damning one side or the other. But when I came to work, it was all business.’

Gross, 74, disclosed his hidden diagnosis in a 90-minute Bloomberg interview, where he reflected on his 40-year career that has included co-founding the Pacific Investment Management Co., the largest bond-fund manager in the world, and most recently working as a portfolio manager with Janus Henderson Group PLC.

And Gross revealed one of the elements to his investing success, which led to the billionaire’s “bond king” moniker, could well be his ability to compartmentalize and to identify patterns in the market that stem from his condition. Asperger syndrome, or Asperger’s, was previously recognized as a diagnosis on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, but was folded under the ASD umbrella by the American Psychological Association in 2013. 

While no two people on the autism spectrum share exact characteristics, those previously diagnosed with Asperger’s have generally demonstrated strong verbal skills, and normal to above-average intelligence, as well as a knack for recognizing patterns, strong attention to detail, and remarkable focus and persistence. 

They can also be socially awkward, however, such as: struggling to make eye contact; not picking up on subtleties like sarcasm and humor, and appear disengaged because they may not understand the give-and-take flow of conversation.

“I’m sort of proud of it, because it explains a lot about me. … It’s allowed me to stay at 30,000 feet as opposed to being on the ground,” Gross said, admitting that it was also partially responsible for his infamous short temper.

“That’s not necessarily good in terms of one-to-one. People think you’re angry or an a-hole or whatever. But it helps you to focus on the longer-term things without getting mixed up in the details.”

But he didn’t recognize his condition until he was already in his 70s, and reading Michael Lewis’s housing-bubble chronicle “The Big Short.” Investor Michael Burry, featured in the true story, learns that he has Asperger’s as an adult. Gross said he was amazed at how much he identified with him. “[Lewis] listed 10 things that Aspergers have that Michael had, as well … and some of them were not being able to look someone in the eye, which I’m not doing well at the moment, and singular hobbies like a stamp collection, etc. And I go, ‘That’s me.’ ” Gross said that a psychiatrist confirmed his self-diagnosis.

He and Burry are not alone. Nobel laureate in economics Vernon L. Smith has said that his Asperger’s had “deficiencies” and “selective advantages.” 

For example, “I can switch out and go into a concentrated mode and the world is completely shut out. If I’m writing something, nothing else exists. Perhaps even more importantly, I don’t have any trouble thinking outside the box. I don’t feel any social pressure to do things the way other people are doing them, professionally. And so I have been more open to different ways of looking at a lot of the problems in economics.”

Pulitzer Prize–winning music critic and author Tim Page was diagnosed with Asperger’s at 45. “I can remember all sorts of trivia, but I don’t notice what somebody has on,” he said in 2010. He also told NPR that he found solace by listening to the repeating patterns of melody in music. “It was always very easy for me to talk about music,” he said.

“Splash” star Daryl Hannah, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s early in her career, has said that it hurt her career, however. Her condition is why “I never went on talk shows, never went to premieres. Going to the Academy Awards was so painful for me. I’d almost faint just walking down the red carpet,” she said in 2010. “I was so socially awkward and uncomfortable that I eventually got blacklisted.”


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