In a recent interview, controversial activist hedge fund manager William Ackman defends himself as a patriotic job creator, but doesn’t address what might be his living legacy.
Ackman claimed to be a net job creator
The founder of Pershing Square Capital Management claimed to be a “net job creator” because he makes companies more productive and able to last for the long term, he said in a Buzzfeed article by Mariah Summers.
“Companies have to be run more efficiently because the world is a competitive place. You can’t just look at a job loss and say that’s a bad thing,” Ackman was quoted as saying.
Ackman’s most significant success was the activist campaign he credits with the turnaround of Canadian Pacific Railway Limited (USA) (NYSE:CP) (TSE:CP). After putting in place his choice for CEO, Hunter Harrison then embarked on a cost cutting plan that shed 4,500 jobs, mostly due to early retirement, Ackman notes. What matters most in an activist’s eye is the stock price went from $42 per share when he was first involved in 2011 to $200 per share.
Ackman’s impact on job creation
Ackman has had both a positive and negative impact on job creation. The most obvious examples of job loss took place when J C Penney Company Inc (NYSE:JCP) shed 19,000 jobs as an Ackman-installed chief executive, Ron Johnson, went on a cost cutting slash and burn mission that Ackman admitted in the interview was “a failure.” Former Apple executive Johnson, who left the firm two years after taking the reigns at the retailer, marked what Ackman considers “one of his worst failures.”
“(J.C. Penny is) the only example I can think of where there have been meaningful job losses where it was a negative,” said Ackman, who once blamed a college entrance exam for using a faulty question when it was the only one he answered incorrectly.
When considering job losses and his most disappointing outcomes, they have all centered on retail and the potential to cut out the traditional retail middleman from the equation. “Amazon has caused more job loss in retail in America than anyone else,” the smooth talking manager observed.
The “Ackman Trade”
Ackman notably didn’t address what could be his lasting legacy: the creation of what could become known as the “Ackman trade.”
Ackman did not discuss much about the Allergan, Inc. (NYSE:AGN) deal due to pending litigation, but if this deal holds up to SEC scrutiny the activist’s tactics in the trade – gaining advance knowledge of a company acquisition and then investing in the company being acquired before the knowledge is public – could be an activist strategy for the history books. Coming in second place might be Ackman’s use of political and regulatory pressure in the Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF), moves to destroy the company by apparently working to lobby government action. Both, if successful, are likely to open the floodgates to further activity from additional activists.
Read the full interview here.