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Falcon Heavy And Herbalife: A Bill Ackman-Carl Icahn Story

Carl and Bill take their fraught bromance where it belongs: to the moon.
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Bill Ackman walks pensively onto the tarmac. It’s been a long few years. His hope and dream that President Trump would usher in a new American age and Make Hedge Funds Great Again have been dashed.


Herbalife isn’t only still in business, it’s booming. In fact, it’s just about the only part of the American economy that is. He needs to get away, from the disappointments, the disasters, the double-digit losses, the deepening redemptions. To clear his head. To get a new perspective. As he gazes up at the majestic form before him, as tall as a 25-story building, he thinks he’s found it.

Little does he know that inside that monolith Carl Icahn is being strapped in to his seat on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. About to become one of the first two civilians to get an up-close view of the moon, the wreckage wrought by his reign as deregulation czar is the furthest thing from his mind. After all, he’s handed off his business to his son, and will be turning 83 in a few months. In other words: Not his problem. Plus, while negotiating for this spot, he also convinced Elon Musk to sign an exclusive deal with Herbalife to provision his spaceships. It’ll be a gassy week, but what a way to cap a career, and a life, to gaze upon the dark side of the moon.

The airlock opens, and Ackman strides into the cockpit. He was disappointed to learn that the payload wouldn’t allow him to bring a few liters of red wine to drink through a straw in celebration, but he hadn’t thought much of it. Upon crossing the threshold, he froze—now, he was thinking quite a lot about it.

He hadn’t pressed when Musk told him his fellow passenger would be a fellow financier; after all, who else could afford such a thing? But of all the gin drinkers in all the spaceships in the world, he had to walk into this one.

Icahn wasn’t a whole lot happier, although he was grateful to be physically restrained from having to hug Ackman or shake his loathsome hand. He just rolled his eyes and hoped—a vain hope, he realized—that his longtime nemesis would just keep his crybaby mouth shut and not unduly impinge on his moongazing.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Ackman said, as Icahn again rolled his eyes and lamented that his prayer for silence had not been answered. Ackman nestled himself into the neighboring seat, as SpaceX stewardesses began to secure him to it for launch. Icahn just knew that something stupid was about to emerge from Ackman’s mouth, and—to Icahn’s mind, at least—it did.

“Is this a sign, Carl?” Bill asked, slightly plaintively. “I mean, after everything we’ve been through, fate has made up the first two deep-space tourists. Together. Just seems like the universe is telling us something.”

Icahn didn’t care what the universe was trying to tell him. He just wanted to see the goddamned moon. He didn’t want to reconcile—he’d tried that once; didn’t take—and he certainly didn’t want to talk about it for a whole damned week. “Bill, can we just…” But before he could finish his sentence, the captain cut Icahn off.

“Gentlemen, welcome to the Falcon Heavy, and to the first-ever private fly-by tour of the moon,” she said. “We’re just a few minutes away from takeoff, so please put on your helmets and prepare yourselves for the ride of your lives.”

Sweet relief, Icahn though, as a stewardess placed the helmet on his head. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the countdown clock. Five minutes. Three. Two. He felt the first rockets ignite. Thirty seconds. Twenty. Ten. Nine. Eight…

Within moments of leaving the earth, the g-forces had knocked Ackman out. He’d expected this: It happened almost every time during the training flights. And in these subconscious moments, he thought about his life. What if he’d never called Icahn about Hallwood Realty? Or what if he had, and it had worked? Maybe the two would have worked together for a decade rather than bickering with and undermining each other. Maybe they could have jointly destroyed Herbalife, made a mint together and saved the American consumer from one of the all-time great scams.

Ackman came to, groggily. He looked out the window and saw the utter blackness of space, punctuated by a few radiant points of light. He turned the other way, and saw Icahn: Helmet off, enjoying his first meal of the flight. A stewardess approached and helped Ackman remove his helmet and another approached with what appeared to be a metallic bag with a straw. Eagerly, he sucked not knowing how long he’d been out, but plenty long enough to develop a ravenous hunger. Space food was never going to be Marea, but it would do.

The first drops reach his tongue, and he immediately spits it out. The green globules float in front of his face, as Icahn roars with laughter.

“Is everything OK, Mr. Ackman?” the stewardess asks.

No, Ackman thought, slowly processing this cosmic joke. No, everything is not OK. And it’s not going to be, either.

SpaceX Plans to Send 2 Tourists Around Moon in 2018 [NYT]



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