William Ackman: Bill’s Excellent Adventure
Influencing policy decisions at large corporations isn’t on the to-do list of most financial whales. For the well-known and sometimes feared William Ackman, though, it’s just par for the course.
William Albert Ackman, commonly known as Bill, didn’t start out as a financial influencer: his first career move was in real-estate investment banking with Ackman Brothers & Singer, Inc. In 1992, Mr. Ackman founded Gotham Partners, a firm that made small investments in public companies, with fellow Harvard University graduate David P. Berkowitz.
It was in 2004 that Bill Ackman started Pershing Square Capital Management with $54 million in funding. Headquartered in New York, Pershing Square brought a measure of fame to Bill through a series of unusual but mostly successful investments, such as when he shorted bond insurer MBIA – a move that paid off handsomely during the 2008 financial crisis.
Coming out of the financial crisis, Bill Ackman continued to “beat the street” through an aggressive activist strategy, with wins against Canadian Pacific, Fortune Brands, and Allergan; other activist campaigns have been launched against corporate giants like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Herbalife.
Owning sizable stakes in large companies is what William Ackman seems to do best, and his track record would certainly attest to this: at one time or another, Pershing Square has held ownership stakes in Target, JC Penney, Procter & Gamble, Valeant Pharmaceuticals (now known as Bausch Health), Kraft Foods, and Chipotle Mexican Grill, among others.
As we might expect, such a robust level of activist investing has come with more than a modicum of resistance and controversy. Outspoken and defiant to the core, Bill Ackman seems to welcome the pushback and can be seen expounding on his viewpoints in the media on a regular basis; Bill’s battle with Herbalife was even featured in the documentary film Betting on Zero.
Opinions aside, William Ackman’s financial success remains beyond reproach: his personal net worth stands today at $1.1 billion, and he still runs Pershing Square Capital Management with as much vim and vigor as ever. A longtime philanthropist, Bill Ackman co-founded The Pershing Square Foundation in 2006 with his then-wife Karen to support innovation in economic development, education, healthcare, human rights, the arts, and urban development.
It’s quite a story – almost like something you’d expect to see in a movie. And so onlookers might wonder: What’s the ending to Bill’s excellent adventure into the confrontational world of activist investing? To which I can only say that the ending hasn’t been written yet, but I can guarantee that it’s going to be big, bold, and unforgettable.