Wendy Cupps joined the world’s largest bond-fund manager about 19 years ago as the company was starting to add various investment products to grow beyond its best-known fund.
She now is global head of product management and the most senior female executive at Newport Beach-based Pacific Investment Management Co., which manages more than $2 trillion in total assets, including nearly $300 billion in its flagship Total Return Fund, run by the company’s cofounder and co-chief investment officer, Bill Gross.
Cupps has helped launch more than 200 funds for Pimco, including risk-based funds in the middle of the economic crisis and income-generating funds designed to offset relatively low returns from stocks. She currently oversees a team of about 120 in the U.S. and abroad, with about 75 in Newport Beach.
Cupps was among the five honorees who received the Women in Business Awards presented by the Business Journal on June 4 at the Hyatt Regency Irvine (see related stories, pages 4,7, 8 and 10).
She didn’t seek the spotlight when she began her career with a bachelor’s degree in math from Bucknell University.
“The truth is, when I was graduating, there was a cover of [a news magazine] that said the highest-paying job with the least amount of stress is to be an actuary,” Cupps said.
She moved from her hometown of Philadelphia to work at the Los Angeles office of New York-based consulting firm Mercer LLC, where she spent about four years on the actuarial side before moving on to investing.
“Actuarial work became more internal, and I think I was more of an external, client-seeing type,” Cupps said. “So I … was on the investment side for the next six years. That’s when I got my passion for that. I wanted to be at the heart of investment, not just manage people who did it. When I made the decision to make the switch, it wasn’t too hard to know where to go.”
She joined Pimco in 1994 as a “one-off specialist” to manage a new set of investment products the firm was launching to provide a stable income option for 401(k) investors. Cupps and her team built the fund to more than $20 billion in assets under management in a couple of years. Pimco went on to create a product management department and set out to hire specialists for specific investment products.
Pimco’s goal at the time was “not … to just continue to grow Total Return … [but] to expand and grow, and help our clients with more things,” according to Cupps. “And as we built out more things we invested in, we needed specialists. The account managers couldn’t be an expert on all the funds. When it was just Total Return, they could.”