Mutual fund giant Pacific Investment Management Co. hires some of the brightest minds in finance. Then it forces them to prove their smarts every week. The Newport Beach company is best known for its celebrated fund manager, Bill Gross, whose prescient investment picks over the years turned Pimco into the world's most powerful bond firm with $1trn under management, including the industry's largest mutual fund, Pimco Total Return. But behind the scenes, Pimco has sought to craft a meritocracy in which its 125 portfolio managers have wide latitude to pitch their ideas and -- most important -- to challenge the firm's investments and one another. At the heart of the system is a weekly meeting where portfolio managers square off in hours-long debates that are a cross between Socratic dialogue and bare-knuckled slugfest.