Strip away all the dollars, cents, and decimals from the financial management industry, and what’s left is the same thing that’s at the heart of any successful organization: people. As managing director and global general counsel for PIMCO, David Flattum is committed to identifying dynamic people, investing in their individual careers, pulling them together to create an outstanding legal team, and regularly demonstrating how valued and appreciated they are.
Leading PIMCO’s legal department requires a unique approach, not only because it’s small in comparison to others in the industry, but also because it is exclusively staffed with high-performing, highly experienced attorneys. Most junior-level tasks are outsourced to allow the in-house team to be directly and immediately involved in any business issues as they arise. This means that many talented people are always at the ready to provide solutions in high-stress situations.
“They are highly motivated with wonderful credentials, which means I need to work hard to keep them,” Flattum says. “I love identifying talent—people with a passion for what we do and are accomplished in their areas of expertise. Once we have them, its important to challenge them with interesting work.”
Flattum fosters autonomy by allowing his team leaders to take calculated risk without his micromanagement, ensuring they have the necessary resources, and supporting their decisions. “My experience is that talented people are driven by the opportunity to achieve something,” he says. “That, and relationships.”
Naturally, the human side of anything must include relationships, and financial management is no exception. Flattum says that if he creates a team environment, supplies great work, and sets high expectations, people will enjoy their work and grow. A healthy, growing team will also collaborate to identify others who share their values and quality of skill, and that breeds a culture of excellent people working together to continue the cycle of growth and development. “At PIMCO, all that leads to an in-house level of sophistication and quality that you would normally only find at a major law firm,” Flattum says.
“Stagnation of development often results in frustration and unhappiness.”
As important as enthusiasm and consistency of quality are at PIMCO, diversity of thought and background are equally valued. This commitment to diversity is company-wide and stems from an understanding that better outcomes and decisions are made by teams that are intentionally inclusive of a wide variety of viewpoints. “For us, race, gender, and sexual orientation are important factors in diversity,” Flattum says. “But we also like to think beyond them and take into account culture, geography, background, and other points of difference.”
Not only that, the company in general, and the legal team specifically, operates under the conviction that inviting a variety of perspectives to the table is simply the right way to do business. “I’m proud to note that our legal/compliance department is one of the more diverse elements of PIMCO,” Flattum says. “That requires intentionality, especially in the financial management world.” Thanks to PIMCO’s reputation for successfully working on the cutting edge of the industry, the firm is a place where all kinds of people want to work.
Diversity of talent on the legal team has also helped to feed a culture of inclusion, as well as diversity of perspectives and approaches. By giving the legal team more autonomy, Flattum has allowed them to work in a variety of ways, and he says there’s nothing better than when excellent people are encouraged to use diverse ways of working together. The results not only benefit the firm, but they also, more importantly, benefit PIMCO’s clients.
In his role as global general counsel, Flattum is serious about the intentionality required to build and nurture a diverse team and the individuals who constitute it. He regularly engages in one-on-one conversations with direct reports and dedicates time to talking about their career goals and practical steps to reach them. Each of his direct reports then meets with their direct reports, so everyone in the legal department is working with their supervisor to create and update a personal development plan each year. Flattum believes stagnation is the source of unhappiness and frustration, which is why he is committed to helping his team identify their unique goals and stay focused enough to attain them.
The legal team at PIMCO has been anything but stagnant in the ten years that Flattum has been there. Between the financial crisis of 2008 and significant changes in leadership at PIMCO—not to mention their own personal growth and development—members of the legal team have experienced an impressive amount of movement. Flattum has endless stories of his team’s over-the-top dedication, clever ideas, and successful solutions to surprising challenges. However, one in particular stands out.
A few years ago, PIMCO’s founder and manager of PIMCO’s Total Return Fund left the firm. As soon as the news hit, stakeholders reacted with uncertainty and anxiety, policy-makers in Washington started asking difficult questions, and clients withdrew large amounts of money from the fund. Suddenly, the legal team was expected to mobilize to undergird PIMCO’s portfolio management group while juggling supporting all other areas, too.
Even under extreme pressure, the PIMCO team rose to the occasion by providing strong, timely advice and working 24-7 to ensure trade volumes, legal issues, and jurisdictions around the world were supported. “The work they did was close to flawless,” Flattum recalls. “The outcome that the firm achieved was fantastic. It was not the achievement of any one person but of an incredibly talented team.” Questions were addressed with skill, accuracy, and timeliness, and everyone worked under great pressure and performed outstandingly well.
Flattum’s pride in his team is as evident as his passion for his work and his company. PIMCO is a firm that is dedicated to delivering the best outcome for its clients and committed to its relationships both internal and external. And, at the end of the day, it prioritizes people above all else. Here, there’s an emphasis on team building, training, and diversity, and the results are demonstrated by the talented, enthusiastic, and courageous human capital of the dedicated legal team and its fearless leader.