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Bill Ackman

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Bill Ackman
Ackman testifying before Congress in 2016
William Albert Ackman

(1966-05-11) May 11, 1966 (age 58)[1]
EducationHarvard University (BA, MBA)
OccupationHedge fund manager
Karen Herskovitz
(m. 1994; div. 2018)
(m. 2019)

William Albert Ackman (born May 11, 1966) is an American billionaire hedge fund manager, who is the founder and chief executive officer of Pershing Square Capital Management, a hedge fund management company.[6] His investment approach has made him an activist investor.[7][8][9] As of June 2024, Ackman's net worth was estimated at $9.3 billion by Forbes.[10]

Early life and education[edit]

Ackman was raised in Chappaqua, New York, the son of Ronnie I. (née Posner) and Lawrence David Ackman, the former chairman of a New York real estate financing firm, Ackman-Ziff Real Estate Group.[11][12][13] He is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.[14][15][16]

In 1988, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude in social studies from Harvard College. His thesis was titled Scaling the Ivy Wall: The Jewish and Asian American Experience in Harvard Admissions.[17] In 1992, he received a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business School.[18]


Gotham Partners[edit]

In 1992, Ackman founded the investment firm Gotham Partners with fellow Harvard graduate David P. Berkowitz.[19] The firm made small investments in public companies.[11] In 1995, Ackman partnered with the insurance and real estate firm Leucadia National to bid for Rockefeller Center. Although they did not win the deal, the bid generated interest in Gotham from investors: three years later, Gotham had $500 million in assets under management (AUM).[11] By 2002, Gotham had become entrenched in litigation with various external shareholders who also owned an interest in the companies in which Gotham invested.[11]

In 2002, Ackman researched MBIA in order to challenge Standard & Poor's AAA rating of its bonds. His law firm billed him over $100,000 for copying 725,000 pages of statements regarding the financial services company to comply with a subpoena.[20] Ackman called for a division between MBIA's structured finance business and its municipal bond insurance business.[20][21]

He argued that MBIA was legally restricted from trading billions of dollars of credit default swap protection that it had sold against various mortgage-backed collateralized debt obligations, and was using a second corporation, LaCrosse Financial Products, which MBIA described as an "orphaned transformer". Ackman bought credit default swaps against MBIA corporate debt and sold them for a large profit during the financial crisis of 2007–2008. He reported covering his short position on MBIA on January 16, 2009, according to the 13D filed with the SEC.[22]

In 2003, a feud developed between Ackman and Carl Icahn over a deal involving Hallwood Realty. They agreed to a "shmuck insurance" arrangement, under which, if Icahn were to sell the shares within 3 years and made a profit of 10% or more, he and Ackman would split the proceeds. Icahn paid $80 per share. In April 2004, HRPT Property Trust acquired Hallwood, paying $136.16 per share. Under the terms of the contract, Icahn owed Ackman and his investors about $4.5 million. Icahn refused to pay. Ackman sued. Eight years later, Icahn was forced to pay the $4.5 million plus 9% interest per year, by court order.[23]

Pershing Square Capital Management[edit]

In 2004, with $54 million from his personal funds and from his former business partner Leucadia National, Ackman started Pershing Square Capital Management.[2][11]

In 2010 Pershing started buying J. C. Penney shares, paying an average of $22 for 39 million shares or 18% of J.C. Penney's stock. In August 2013, the two-year campaign to transform the department store came to an abrupt end when Ackman stepped down from the board following a disagreement with fellow board members.[24]

In January 2015, LCH Investments named Ackman one of the world's top 20 hedge fund managers after Pershing Square delivered $4.5 billion in net gains for investors in 2014, bringing the fund's lifetime gains to $11.6 billion since its launch in 2004 through 2014.[25]

Ackman, Valeant CEO Michael Pearson, and Valeant CFO Howard Schiller testifying in front of Congress on April 27, 2016

On April 27, 2016, Ackman, along with Valeant Pharmaceuticals' outgoing CEO, J. Michael Pearson, and the company's former interim CEO, Howard Schiller, testified before the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging.[26] The testifying panel answered questions related to the committee's concerns about repercussions to patients and the health care system posed by Valeant's business model and controversial pricing practices.[26] Ackman opened his testimony saying, "As a shareholder of Valeant, I recognize my investment was an… endorsement of Valeant's strategy."[26] Ackman sold his remaining 27.2 million share position in Valeant to the investment bank Jefferies for about $300 million in March 2017. It has been estimated that the total cost of the position, including direct stock purchases and 9.1 million shares that were underlying stock options traded with Nomura Global Financial Products, was $4.6 billion, leading to a substantial loss.[27][28]

Herbalife short[edit]

In December 2012, Ackman issued a research report that criticized Herbalife's multi-level marketing business model, calling it a pyramid scheme.[29] Ackman disclosed that his hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital Management, sold short the company's shares directly (not with derivatives) starting in May 2012, causing Herbalife's stock price to drop.

A few months after Ackman's initial comments, billionaire investor Carl Icahn challenged Ackman's comment in a public spat on national TV. Shortly thereafter, Icahn bought shares of Herbalife International. As Icahn continued to buy shares, the stock price continued to show strength.[30] By May 2013, Icahn owned 16.5% of the company.[31] That number had declined to 6.4% by November 2013.[32]

In 2014, Ackman spent $50 million on a public relations campaign against Herbalife.[33]

Former Representative Bob Barr (R-GA) called on Congress to investigate Ackman's use of public relations and regulatory pressure in his short campaign, and Harvey Pitt, a former chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), questioned whether Ackman aimed to move the price rather than spread the truth.[34][35] In 2014, Senator Ed Markey wrote letters to federal regulators, including the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the SEC, demanding they open an investigation into Herbalife's business practices. The day the letters were released, the company's stock dropped 14%. Markey later told the Boston Globe that his staff had not informed him that Ackman stood to benefit financially from his actions and defended the letters as a matter of consumer rights.[36] The New York Times reported that Ackman had donated $32,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on 30 April 2013, the same day Markey won the Democratic primary for the Senate special election in Massachusetts. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee subsequently donated a significant sum to Markey's campaign just over a month later.[37]

In March 2014, The New York Times reported that Ackman had employed tactics to undermine public confidence in Herbalife to lower its stock price, including pressuring state and federal regulators to investigate the company, paying individuals to travel to and participate in rallies against it, and boosting Pershing Square's spending on donations to nonprofit Latino organizations. According to the article, groups such as the Hispanic Federation and the National Consumers League sent federal regulators numerous letters. "Each person contacted by The Times acknowledged in interviews that they wrote the letters after being lobbied by representatives from Pershing Square, or said they did not remember writing the letters at all. Mr. Ackman's team also then started to make payments totaling about $130,000 to some of these groups, including the Hispanic Federation — money he said was being used to help find victims of Herbalife."[35]

By December 2, 2014, stock prices had fallen nearly 50% to $42.08 from their January 8 high of $83.48.[38] Later that month, Pershing Square Capital released a 2005 Herbalife distributor training session, in which an employee described high turnover rates and implied that the company's business model was not sustainable.[39][40] In an interview with Bloomberg, Ackman predicted that the company would experience an "implosion" in 2015 or early 2016, citing federal scrutiny and debt.[40][41]

On March 12, 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported that prosecutors in the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office and the FBI were investigating whether people hired by Ackman "made false statements about Herbalife's business model to regulators and others in order to spur investigations into the company and lower its stock price".[42][43] In March 2015, U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer, in Los Angeles, California, dismissed a suit filed by Herbalife investors alleging the company is operating an illegal pyramid scheme. In response to Fischer's ruling, Herbalife stock rose approximately 13%.[44] Herbalife and the FTC reached a settlement agreement in July 2016, ending the agency's investigation into the company. On the day of the settlement, Fortune estimated that Ackman lost $500 million.[45]

Ackman's position on Herbalife led to a discussion on live television with Herbalife supporter Carl Icahn for nearly half an hour on CNBC on January 25, 2013.[46][47][48] During the segment, Icahn called Ackman "a crybaby in the schoolyard" and claimed that going public with his short position would eventually force Ackman into the "mother of all short squeezes". On November 22, 2013, Ackman admitted on Bloomberg Television that Pershing Square's open short position in Herbalife was "$400 million to $500 million" in the red, but that he wouldn't be squeezed out and would hold the short "to the end of the earth".[49]

In November 2017, Ackman told Reuters that he had covered his short-sell position, but would continue to bet against Herbalife using put options with no more than 3% of Pershing Square's funds.[50]

On February 28, 2018, Ackman exited his near billion-dollar bet against Herbalife after the company's stock price continued to rise.[51]

COVID-19 response[edit]

Ahead of the 2020 stock market crash, Ackman hedged Pershing Square's portfolio, investing $27 million to purchase credit protection, insuring the portfolio against steep market losses.[52] Pershing Square first disclosed the hedge on March 3, 2020. According to Reuters, "Ackman said hedging was preferable to selling off his portfolio of companies whose businesses are otherwise strong."[53] The hedge was effective, generating $2.6 billion in less than one month.[54]

On March 18, 2020, in an emotional interview with CNBC, Ackman called upon President Trump for a "30-day shutdown" of the American economy to slow the spread of coronavirus and minimize loss of life and ensuing economic destruction resulting from the shutdown.[55] Ackman warned that without intervention, hotel stocks were "going to zero" and said that America could "end as we know it". He also cautioned U.S. companies to stop stock buyback programs because "hell is coming".[56]

Ackman later received criticism for actively buying discounted equity stakes in the very companies he was warning could fail;[57] however, Ackman already had realized roughly half of the gains before appearing during the CNBC interview.[58]

In a November 2020 interview, Ackman said that he had grown concerned about COVID-19 because he had seen the film Contagion.[59]

Investment style[edit]

Ackman has said that his most successful investments have always been controversial, and that his first rule of activist investing is to "make a bold call that nobody believes in".[60]

His most notable market plays include shorting MBIA's bonds during the financial crisis of 2007–2008, his proxy fight with Canadian Pacific Railway,[61][62] and his stakes in the Target Corporation, Valeant Pharmaceuticals,[63] and Chipotle Mexican Grill.[64] From 2012 to 2018, Ackman held a US$1 billion short against the nutrition company Herbalife, a company he has described as a pyramid scheme designed as a multi-level marketing firm.[65] His efforts were reported in the documentary film Betting on Zero.[66]

After weak performance in 2015–2018, Ackman told investors in January 2018 that he was going to go back to basics by cutting staff, ending investor visits that were eating into his time, and hunkering down in the office to do research. The next year, Pershing Square returned 58.1%, which Reuters says qualified it as "one of the world's best performing hedge funds" for 2019.[67]

Ackman has said that he admires short sellers such as Carson Block of Muddy Waters Capital and Andrew Left of Citron Research.[68]


He is a signatory of The Giving Pledge, committing himself to give away at least 50% of his wealth by the end of his life to charitable causes.[69]

Ackman has given to charitable causes such as the Center for Jewish History,[70] where he spearheaded a successful effort to retire $30 million in debt, personally contributing $6.8 million.[71][72] The donation, along with those of Bruce Berkowitz, founder of Fairholme Capital Management, and Joseph Steinberg, president of Leucadia National, were the three largest individual gifts the center has ever received.[73]

Ackman's foundation donated $1.1 million to the Innocence Project in New York City and Centurion Ministries in Princeton, New Jersey.[71]

In 2006, Ackman, and then wife Karen, founded the Pershing Square Foundation to support innovation in economic development, education, healthcare, human rights, arts and urban development.[74][75] The foundation is a major donor to Planned Parenthood.[76] Since its inception, the foundation has committed more than $400 million in grants since 2006.[14] In 2011, the Ackmans were on The Chronicle of Philanthropy's "Philanthropy 50" list of the most generous donors.[77]

In July 2014, Challenged Athletes Foundation, which provides sports equipment to those with physical disabilities, honored Ackman at a gala fundraiser at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City for helping raise a record $2.3 million.[78]

On March 15, 2021, he announced that he donated 26.5 million shares in South Korean e-commerce company Coupang, valued at $1.36 billion, to three entities, one of them his own foundation.[79]

In December 2022, Ackman auctioned a luncheon with himself for charity in partnership with the David Lynch Foundation. The proceeds would go toward helping "New York's frontline healthcare workers, police and veterans who battle anxiety, depression, addiction and suicidality every day", with Ackman matching the winning bid to support the foundation. The highest winning bid over prior instances was $210,000.[80]

Ackman is a supporter of David M. Sabatini, a biologist who was previously fired by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and resigned from the Whitehead Institute and MIT due to allegations and investigations of sexual misconduct. On March 1, 2022, at a Pershing Square Foundation event, he delivered remarks about what he called Sabatini's unfair treatment.[81] In February 2023, Ackman announced that his foundation and an anonymous donor would together fund Sabatini US$25 million over five years to establish and run a new research laboratory.[82][83]

Personal views[edit]

On October 8, 2023, following the onset of the Israel–Hamas war after the Hamas-led attack on Israel, several Harvard undergraduate student groups signed a letter condemning the Israeli state. The statement held the "Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence," declared that millions of Palestinians in Gaza have been "forced to live in an open-air prison," and called on Harvard to "take action to stop the ongoing annihilation of Palestinians."

In response, Ackman called for the publication of the names of all students involved in signing the letter so that he could ensure his company and others do not "inadvertently hire" any of the signatories. Ackman posted, "One should not be able to hide behind a corporate shield when issuing statements supporting the actions of terrorists," and the names "should be made public so their views are publicly known".[84] Ackman's stance was supported by other CEOs such as Jonathan Neman, David Duel and Jake Wurzak.[85] Former Harvard president Lawrence Summers, though agreeing with Ackman on the need to look at employees' political views, called Ackman's request for a list of names "the stuff of Joe McCarthy".[86]

In November 2023, Ackman defended Elon Musk after the latter expressed agreement with a user who asserted that "Jewish communities" supported "hordes of minorities flooding their country" and pushed "dialectical hatred against whites", describing it as "shoot from the hip commentary".[87][88]

Ackman also engaged in a campaign to remove Claudine Gay from her position as Harvard's president. He argued that her response to antisemitism was insufficient and amplified allegations that she engaged in plagiarism.[89][90]

On January 3, 2024, Business Insider published an article alleging that Ackman's wife, Neri Oxman, plagiarized portions of her dissertation. A day after the article's publication, Oxman apologized for citation errors in portions of her dissertation.[91][92][93] Ackman, in response to the article, pledged to conduct a plagiarism review of all MIT faculty, including MIT's president, Sally Kornbluth, who, alongside Gay, attended a congressional hearing on antisemitism in higher education.[91]

Ackman supported the Democratic Party and endorsed Dean Phillips for the 2024 presidential primaries.[94]

In April 2024, Ackman announced via X that he would not support Joe Biden[95] in the upcoming election and is open to voting for former President Donald Trump.[96] Ackman previously voted for Trump in the 2016 election.[97]

Ackman was involved in a long-standing WhatsApp group chat that existed from October 2023 through early May 2024 with some of the United States' most powerful business leaders with the stated goals of "chang[ing] the narrative" in favor of Israel and "help[ing] win the war" on U.S. public opinion following Hamas's October 7th attack on Israel.[98] Information about the WhatsApp group chat was reported by The Washington Post on May 16, 2024.[98] Members of the group chat discussed how they received private briefings by, and worked closely with, members of the Israeli government, including former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett; Benny Gantz, a member of the Israeli war cabinet; and Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog.[98] Group members, including Ackman, worked with the Israeli government to screen a film titled "Bearing Witness to the October 7th Massacre", which shows footage compiled by the Israeli Defense Forces portraying killings committed by Hamas on October 7th.[98] Israel estimates 1,139 people were killed in Hamas's October 7th attack, including 695 Israeli civilians, 36 of whom were children, 373 members of the security forces, and 71 foreigners;[99] between October 7th and the Post's report, the Gaza Ministry of Health estimated that IDF attacks had killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians.[100] Screenings of the film were conducted in New York City and, with Ackman's help, at Harvard University, his alma mater.[98]

Members of the 2023-2024 WhatsApp group chat also held a video call in April 2024 with New York City Mayor Eric Adams in an effort to, according to reporting by The Washington Post, "pressure Columbia’s president and trustees to permit the mayor to send police to the campus" to shut down criticism of Israel's offensive military operations in Gaza, which many campus protesters, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, civil servants, and governments around the world have alleged to be genocide.[98] During the video call, group members discussed making political donations to Adams.[98] A spokesperson for Ackman said he had not participated in the group chat since January 10, 2024, and that although Ackman "likes and is supportive of the Mayor," he had never spoken to Adams about the Columbia protests or donated to Adams's campaign.[98]

Personal life[edit]

Ackman married Karen Ann Herskovitz, a landscape architect, on July 10, 1994.[101] They have three children.[14] On December 22, 2016, it was reported that the couple had separated.[4]

In 2018, Ackman became engaged to Neri Oxman.[102] In January 2019, Oxman and Ackman married at the Central Synagogue in Manhattan,[14] and they had their first child together in spring 2019.[103] In August 2019, Ackman wrote to MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito to discourage him from mentioning Oxman when discussing convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who had donated $125,000 to Oxman's lab.[104]

Ackman endorsed Michael Bloomberg as a prospective candidate for President of the United States in the 2016 presidential election.[105] He is a longtime donor to Democratic candidates and organizations, including Richard Blumenthal, Chuck Schumer, Robert Menendez, the Democratic National Committee, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.[106]

Ackman is a keen amateur tennis player and controversially commented that he could play a close and even doubles match against John McEnroe in a Bloomberg News interview with David Rubenstein in 2020.[107]

Ackman owned a Gulfstream G550 business jet, as of 2017.[108][109]



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Further reading[edit]

  • Cheffins, Brian R. (2014). "Hedge Fund Activism Canadian Style". University of British Columbia Law Review. 47 (1): 1-59 (Discussing Pershing Square's activities in Canada, and a unique cultural reluctance to support active value creation by ethical intervening shareholders). SSRN 2204294.
  • Rojas, Claudio R. (2014). "An Indeterminate Theory of Canadian Corporate Law". University of British Columbia Law Review. 47 (1): 59-128 ("The author's perspective on Berkshire Hathaway's investment philosophy was informed by discussions with Warren Buffett in Omaha, Nebraska": pp. 59, 122-124). SSRN 2391775.
  • Richard, Christine. Confidence Game (Wiley, 2010) with Bloomberg News.
  • Shane Parrish (2020). "Bill Ackman: Getting Back Up" (Podcast). Farnam Street's The Knowledge Project. Retrieved July 26, 2020.