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. — Joe Nocera/NYT, May 29, 2009
The group met in a small conference room. Instead of the usual three SEC attorneys, only two were at that meeting. Gerald Russello, the attorney who had been leading the investigation, had taken a job in the general counsel’s office at Bear Stearns. The presentation was going according to plan when [Pershing Square’s general counsel] noticed that Ackman was getting agitated. “I’ve shown you this fraud. I’ve shown you that fraud,” Ackman said. “What do I have to do? What do I have to prove to you before you take some action?” His face was flushed, his eyes misty. — Christine Richard, Confidence Game, 2010
Without reading any further, [Pershing Square’s general counsel] told his wife, “I may have to quit my job tomorrow.” His boss’s habit of writing long, emotional, late-night missives without having him vet them was one of the aggravations of his job. But this was the worst yet. — Christine Richard, Confidence Game, 2010
Staring down the activist, the directors proposed installing Ingram as chairman, and chief financial officer Kathryn McQuade as interim CEO. Ackman’s furious outburst could be heard in an outside hallway, where a clutch of advisers was standing by…Half a year later, Ackman is asked to explain his Calgary outburst. “Ballistic is too strong a word,” he says. He searches long and hard for diplomatic words to explain his passionate reaction in the CP boardroom. “There were a lot of bruised feelings,” he says. “It took a while before we were able to work it out. The first few hours were not easy.” When it is suggested that his anger may be a deliberate act to unnerve his adversaries, he is incensed. “I don’t act, ever,” he says. “I’m exactly who I appear to be. I am unfiltered, for better or worse.” — Globe and Mail, November 29, 2012
As has been discussed at length in the past, and as you can see from the above, Pershing Square founder Bill Ackman is an investor who wears his heart on his sleeve. A hedge fund manager who imbues emotion in everything he does. Sometimes those emotions come in the form of anger. Sometimes they come out in the form letters penned at 2AM to various SEC officials because what he had to say could not wait another few hours. More often than not, they come out as salty tears that were impossible to hold back.
Ackman’s emotional range has been well-documented and when a reporter recently questioned whether or not said emotions were real or simply a tactic to weird out his opponents, he informed her that what you see is what you get. Bill Ackman fakes nothing and furthermore, doesn’t deem it necessary to hold back when gripped by feelings, whatever they may be: unlike some money managers, whose facial expressions betray fewer hints of what they’re thinking or feeling than a corpse, Bill Ackman is man enough to let it all hang out, a quality that, for the record, we think he should highlight rather than distance himself from.
So it was a bit odd to see him tell Andrew Ross Sorkin this:
Sorkin: Your fund, Pershing Square Capital Management, took a $500-million loss on its investment in J. C. Penney. How did that feel? Ackman: I’m not emotional about investments. Investing is something where you have to be purely rational, and not let emotion affect your decision making — just the facts.
It’s unclear what could account for Ackman making the bold claim that he’s “not emotional about investments” but perhaps he suffers from Emotional Blackouts? That is, after the last tear has been wiped, he has no recollection of them falling at all and is at loss for how the pile of tissues ended up on his desk?
Alternatively, it’s possible that he simply has a higher bar than the rest of us for what constitutes ‘getting emotional’ and doesn’t count the instances in which he’s teared up/yelled/gotten flushed as such, in which case we’re in for a display of waterworks the likes of which one can’t even imagine* the day he actually lets his emotions get the better of him. Like the day the L.A. Galaxy drop Herbalife as their sponsor, citing the company’s impending bankruptcy filing. Or the day Target finally decides once and for all that yes, they should sell the real estate they own and lease it back. Or the day that Barnes & Noble comes crawling back, saying they’re not over him, and that they could use that cash after all.
In which case, take shelter, ’cause a storm’s a’ comin.
*Though maybe something like this?