El-Erian was born in New York City on August 19, 1958 to an Egyptian father and a French mother. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Egypt, where El-Erian spent some of his early childhood along with short periods in Europe where his father attended meetings of the UN law commission. In 1968, the family moved back to New York when his father took a position at the United Nations. From 1971-73, they lived in France, where El-Erian's father was the Egyptian Ambassador to France.
After attending St John's School, Leatherhead, a boarding school in the United Kingdom, gaining an entrance scholarship to Queens' College, Cambridge and receiving a first class honors undergraduate degree in economics, he obtained master's and doctorate degrees in economics from Oxford University. In June 2011, El-Erian received an honorary doctorate degree from the American University in Cairo. Following a Governing Body decision, he was admitted in December 2013 as an Honorary Fellow of Queens' College, Cambridge University.
El-Erian has served on the board of trustees of several educational institutions, including Pegasus, St. Margaret School. Cambridge in America and KAUST. He co-chairs the capital campaign for Cambridge University and its Colleges.
After his doctorate studies at Oxford, El-Erian settled in the US in 1983, taking a position at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C. where he rose to become Deputy Director. He moved to the private sector in January 1998, working in London at Salomon Smith Barney/Citigroup before being recruited by PIMCO to lead its work on emerging markets.
After a stint at PIMCO as a managing director and head of the emerging market portfolio team, he was appointed CEO and President of Harvard Management Company, the entity that manages Harvard's endowment and related accounts. He served as a member of the faculty of Harvard Business School. He is currently a member of the Harvard Global Advisory Council. He returned to PIMCO in December 2007 as CEO and co-CIO. As CEO of PIMCO, El-Erian was responsible for setting the strategic direction of the firm and leading its operations globally. As co-CIO with PIMCO co-founder Bill Gross, El-Erian oversaw investment policies and strategies for all the company's portfolio management activities. He helped deliver investment performance for clients and grow PIMCO's asset under management from under $1 trillion to $2 trillion.
On December 21, 2012, President Obama announced the appointment of El-Erian as the chair of the president's Global Development Council, leading the Council in its role of informing and providing advice to the President and other senior U.S. officials on global development policies and practices.
On January 21, 2014, El-Erian resigned from PIMCO as of mid-March 2014. He remains a member of the parent company's (Allianz) international executive committee, chairs its International Advisory Committee, and is an advisor to the management board.
El-Erian has published widely on international economic and finance topics. He is a member of the Financial Times "A-List" of writers, has a monthly column in Foreign Policy and is a contributing editor at the FT. He is also a regular op-ed contributor to Project Syndicate. His columns have appeared in The Atlantic, Bloomberg, The Economist, "Business Insider", Financial Times, Fortune, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Financial Express, and other outlets. He is a columnist for Bloomberg. His first book When Markets Collide was a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. The book won the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award in 2008, was named a book of the year by The Economist, and called one of the best business books of all time by The Independent. His second book, The Only Game in Town: Central Banks, Instability, and Avoiding the Next Collapse, was also a New York Times bestseller.
El-Erian was named to Foreign Policy's list of Top 100 Global Thinkers for 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. He appears regularly on CNN, CNBC, and Bloomberg as well as other media outlets.
In April 2013, Foreign Policy named him as one of the 500 most powerful people on the planet. He was inducted into the Fixed Income Analysts Society Hall of Fame on April 14, 2011. In 2011, 2012, and 2013, he was included in Investment Advisor's annual IA 25 list honoring the most influential people in and around the advisor community. In December 2012, Marketwatch named him one of "30 leaders who will set the agenda in 2013" – the publication's annual list of the people who will shape economic currents in the coming year. In September 2013, he was recognized as the Capital Markets Personality of the Year by Africa Investor, an international investment and communications group that publishes a leading magazine for Africa's investment decision makers.
Worth Magazine, a publication focused on high-net-worth individuals, named El-Erian to its Power 100 list – "The 100 Most Powerful People in Finance" – in 2011, 2012, and 2013. In September 2012, he was given the Creative Leadership Award by the Louise Blouin Foundation. In February 2014, the Ukleja Center honored him with the 2014 Nell and John Wooden Ethics in Leadership award. In July 2014, the Egyptian Cancer Network gave him the Lifetime Achievement Award for his support of cancer treatment and cures for children in Egypt. In November 2015, The Middle East Institute in Washington DC honored him with their Visionary Award. The award recognizes outstanding leadership in international economic and financial policy, melding creativity and vision with expertise to promote global prosperity.
In February 2017, Richtopia ranked him 23rd in its list of top 100 economists in the world.
El-Erian has served on several boards and committees, including the U.S. Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee, the International Center for Research on Women, the IMF's Committee of Eminent Persons, and the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He is currently a board member of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Vice Chair), the NBER(Executive Committee), Co-chair of the Capital Campaign for the University and Colleges of Cambridge and Cambridge in America. On March 18, 2015, El-Erian was admitted as Companion of the Guild of Benefactors, Cambridge University. He is also a board member of New America, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and The Pegasus School. Since 2007, he has served as chair of the Microsoft Investment Advisory Committee. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and serves on the international advisory committees of Allianz and Investcorp.
His philanthropic efforts over the years have emphasized education and health, including major gifts to the Children's Cancer Hospital in Egypt as well as the University of Cambridge and Queens' College. In October 2015, it was announced that, together with funding for studentships and new faculty positions, the El-Erian Institute for Human Behavior and Economic Policy would be established in partnership with Queens' College and the Faculty of Economics at Cambridge. The work of the institute will look to appropriately combine economics and finance with neuroscience, psychology, politics and behavioral finance to better understand how people actually make decisions rather than how narrow theory assumes they will.
El-Erian is a widely recognized thought leader and is credited with developing the post-global financial crisis concept of the "New Normal". Having first come up with the concept in January 2009 and after discussions with PIMCO, he wrote about it in May 2009 and presented it in several forums, including as the 2010 Per Jacobsson Foundation Lecture in Washington D.C. He has published numerous articles and commentaries on topics related to the New Normal, the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, the transformative changes occurring in the Middle East, and other matters related to the global economy, policy and markets
El-Erian has spoken at many universities, public institutions and other organizations, including the University of California, Irvine, the New York Public Library, the University of Southern California, Cambridge, Oxford, the Newport Beach Public Library, CFA Society of Chicago, HSBC, Barclays Bank, the UK Parliament’s House of Lords, SALT, Rand Merchant Bank, Marcus Evans, Mortgage Bankers Association, Insurance Bureau of Canada, World 50, and the 92nd Street Y. He has also and the 92nd Street Y. He has also spoken at CFA, FT, and Economist conferences. In November 2007, El-Erian was the series kick-off speaker of the MIT Egyptian Club. In 2010, he delivered the Per Jacobsson Foundation Lecture in Washington, D.C. In 2012 he was chosen to present the Homer Jones Memorial Lecture at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. In October 2012, he delivered the keynote Bagehot at The Economist's Buttonwood Gathering in New York. In November 2013, he delivered the luncheon speech at the IMF's Annual Research Conference that also featured Ben Bernanke, Olivier Blanchard, Stanley Fischer, Ken Rogoff, and Larry Summers. In October 2014, he spoke at HSBC and RBS. He participated in the international symposium of the Banque de France.
He was also the keynote speaker at the 2014 CME Conference along with Ben Bernanke and Colin Powell. He has also spoken before the Economic Club of Canada, Soka University, ProBono Economics, Boston Security Analysts, Rabobank, the Global Financial Forum and many others. In March 2015 he was a featured speaker at the Egypt Economic Development Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. He also is a contributor to LinkedIn's Influencer series and was ranked third on their top 10 influencers of the year. In November 2015, he participated in the Fortune CEO Global Summit and was the keynote speaker at the CFA Society of Chicago. In December 2015, El-Erian was the keynote speaker at the Information Management Network Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.
A relative newcomer to social media, El-Erian was ranked the top influencer by LinkedIn in 2016.
El-Erian is a die hard Jets fan and has been known to appear on TV in a Jets jersey.(2016) The Only Game in Town: Central Banks, Instability, and Avoiding the Next Collapse, Penguin Random House. ISBN 9780812997620.
(2008) When Markets Collide: Investment Strategies for the Age of Global Economic Change, McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 978-0-07-159281-9.