As many of you are aware, Bill Ackman lost his Target battle last week, a fight he’s shed blood, sweat and tears over. Like, actual tears. As noted here on Thursday, the Pershing founder visibly choked up during his presentation. He didn’t have to explain the show of raw emotion to us, or most of his hedge fund friends (like the SAC sisters in Stamford, who burst into tears on the regular during business hours, knowing the value of a good cry) but apparently Times reporter Joe Nocera begged to differ. While JoNo is no stranger to the difficulty finance gurus can have in reigning in their feelings when things don’t necessarily go their way (he being a self-identified pal of Cliff Asness), the journalist was shocked (and sickened) by the display, writing Friday night:
I’ve seen my share of odd moments during annual meetings, but until Thursday I’d never seen a grown man cry during one.
O.K., maybe “cry” is a bit of an overstatement for what happened. Still, it was pretty startling when, in the middle of his speech to Target Corporation shareholders, William A. Ackman, the hedge fund manager who had waged an expensive, high-profile proxy fight against the company, suddenly choked up and stopped speaking. He wiped away a tear.
Nocera goes on to say why he’s puzzled by Ackman’s battle, and corporate governance in general, and then more on the salty discharge coming out of BA’s eyes, which you can read here. OR: you can read Ackman’s 5,000+ word response, which he stayed up ’til dawn writing (“I haven’t done an all-nighter since college,” he told Joe in an email). For those of you for whom 5,000 is a bit too much, we say: go fuck yourselves! Kidding. But seriously. As Billy-boy put it to Nocera, when asked for a shorter version, “I think every word is important.”
While reciting the spoken words for the first time at the meeting, I recognized the sublime significance of JFK’s quotation that seemed so on point when I wrote my remarks that morning, but so far above the importance of what this mundane shareholder meeting was about. As I spoke these words in the meeting I was carried back to Kennedy’s soaring oratory, and I briefly lost control of my emotions in a way that had not previously happened to me at a business occasion. The tear was not for the loss of a proxy contest as Mr. Nocera implies, but rather in recognition of the significance of JFK’s words nearly 50 years ago. It may also have represented some amount of physical and emotional fatigue.