William Albert Ackman (born May 11, 1966), is an American hedge-fund manager. He is the founder and CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management LP, a hedge-fund management company. Ackman is considered a contrarian investor[3][4] but he considers himself an activist investor.[5][6]

Early life

Ackman was raised in Chappaqua, New York, and he is the son of Ronnie I. (née Posner) and Lawrence David Ackman, the chairman of a New York real estate financing firm, Ackman-Ziff Real Estate Group.[7][8] His family is Jewish.[9][10]


In 1988, he received a bachelor of arts degree magna cum laude in history from Harvard College. His thesis was "Scaling the Ivy Wall: the Jewish and Asian American Experience in Harvard Admissions."[11] In 1992, he received an MBA from Harvard Business School.[12]


In 1992 Ackman founded the investment firm Gotham Partners with fellow Harvard graduate David P. Berkowitz. This investment firm made small investments in public companies.[7] 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 high-profile nature of the bid caused investors to flock to Gotham Partners, growing it to $500 million in assets by 1998.[7]

In 2002, Ackman began winding down Gotham Partners, which had become entrenched in litigation with various outside shareholders who also owned an interest in the same companies in which Gotham invested. A 2003 investigation of Gotham's trading practices by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer found no wrongdoing.[7] In August 2013, Ackman's two-year campaign to transform the department store J. C. Penney came to an abrupt end after he decided to step down from the board following an argument with fellow board members.[13]

In February 2016, he endorsed Michael Bloomberg as a prospective candidate for President of the United States.[14]

MBIA activities

In 2002, Ackman began research challenging MBIA's AAA rating despite an ongoing probe of his trading by New York State and federal authorities. He was charged fees for copying 725,000 pages of statements regarding the financial services company in his law firm's compliance with a subpoena.[15] Ackman called for a division between MBIA's bond insurers' structured finance business and their municipal bond insurance business, despite statements from the company that this would not be a viable option.[17]

He argued that the billions of dollars of credit default swap (CDS) protection MBIA had sold against various mortgage backed CDOs was going to be a problem. He also argued that it was not proper for MBIA, which was legally restricted from trading in CDS, to instead do it through a second corporation, LaCrosse Financial Products, which MBIA described as an "orphaned transformer". Ackman bought credit default swaps against MBIA corporate debt as a way to bet that it would crash. When MBIA did, in fact, crash as the financial crisis of 2008 came to a head, he sold the swaps for a large profit. The story of Ackman's battle with MBIA was turned into a book called Confidence Game (Wiley, 2010) by Bloomberg News reporter Christine Richard. He reported covering his short position on MBIA on January 16, 2009, according to the 13D filed with the SEC.[18]

Feud with Carl Icahn

In 2003 a feud developed between Bill Ackman and Carl Icahn over a deal involving Hallwood Realty. They agree to a "schmuck insurance" which said that if Icahn sold the shares within 3 years and made a profit of 10% or more, he and Ackman would split the proceeds. Carl Icahn paid $80 per share and in less than 13 months on April 14, 2004, HRPT Property Trust acquired Hallwood paying $136.16 per share, under the terms it owed Bill Ackman investors about $4.5 million, but he refused to pay, so Bill Ackman was forced to sue and after eight years in 2011 the Court forced Icahn to pay $4.5 million they were owed plus 9% interest per year since the date of the sale. Carl Icahn called him up afterwards to congratulated Ackman on winning and he wanted to be friends. He told him that he had no interest in being friends. [19] [2][2]

Pershing Square Capital Management

In 2004, with $54 million in funding from his personal funds and from his former business partner, Leucadia National, Ackman started Pershing Square Capital Management.[7] In 2005, Pershing bought a significant share in the fast food chain Wendy's International and successfully pressured it to sell its Tim Hortons doughnut chain. Wendy's spun off Tim Hortons through an IPO in 2006 and raised $670 million for Wendy's investors. After Ackman sold his shares at a substantial profit after a dispute over executive succession, the stock price collapsed, raising criticism that the sale of Wendy's fastest-growing unit left the company in a weaker market position. Ackman blamed the poor performance on their new CEO.[7] Pershire Square Holdings amounted to 22.2% in annualized returns since inception (Dec. 2012 – Dec. 2015) under Ackman’s management.[21] The firm posted strong returns in 2014, by returning 50.6% gross return for the year.[22] The fund, however, underperformed for the year of 2015, as they posted a return of -20.5% net of all fees at the end of the year.[23]

In December 2007 his funds owned a 10% stake in Target Corporation, valued at $4.2 billion[2] through the purchase of stock and derivatives.[2] In December 2010, his funds held a 38% stake in Borders Group and on December 6, 2010, Ackman indicated he would finance a buyout of Barnes & Noble for US$900M.[2] He also won a shareholder proxy battle for Canadian Pacific Railway. Ackman is known to occasionally hire people outside of traditional finance backgrounds; for example, his professionals have included a former fly fishing guide, a former tennis pro and "a man whom he met in a cab."[2]

Defense of J. Ezra Merkin

At a panel meeting discussing Bernie Madoff in January 2009, Ackman defended his longtime friend J. Ezra Merkin, stating, "Has Ezra committed a crime? I don’t think so,” "I think [Merkin] is an honest person, an intelligent person, an interesting person, a smart investor."[28][29][30]

On April 6, 2009, Merkin was charged with civil fraud by the State of New York, for "secretly steering $2.4 billion in client money into Bernard Madoff's Ponzi fraud without their permission."[31] A settlement was reached on June 2012 requiring Merkin to pay $405 million to victims including the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.[32]

Herbalife short

In December 2012, Ackman issued a research report that was critical of Herbalife's multi-level marketing business model, calling it a pyramid scheme.[3] Ackman disclosed that his hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital Management, sold short the company's shares directly (not with derivatives) starting in May 2012. Critics have charged that Ackman is misusing markets, employing political campaign tactics in an effort to lower the company's stock price.[3]

Ackman stated he would donate all personal profits from the trade to charity, although this does not apply to profits earned for other investors in his hedge fund. Ackman stated he is not day trading the stock, and is in for the long term.[35][3] Herbalife's management disputes the premise of the report and its ensuing conclusion, i.e. that the stock is worth $0.[3] Ackman said on CNBC that millions of low-income people around the world have been duped with this scheme and if they knew that less than 1% of participants were able to make hundreds of thousands of dollars, no one would sign up for it. In response, Herbalife CEO Michael Johnson disputed Ackman's claim that he ran a "pyramid scheme" and accused Ackman of "market manipulation."[35]

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.[3][4][4]

On November 22, 2013, he 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".[4] In April 2014, Reuters reported that, according to its sources, the FBI is conducting a probe into Herbalife; agents also reviewed documents obtained from the company's former distributors.[42]

Current and former Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have weighed in on the debate. Former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) has called on Congress to investigate Ackman's actions.[4][4] In 2014 Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) wrote letters to federal regulators, including the 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 percent. Markey later told the Boston Globe that his staff had not informed him that Ackman stood to benefit financially from the Senator's actions but defended the letters as a matter of consumer rights.[4]

According to the New York Times, numerous letters were sent to federal regulators by groups such as the Hispanic Federation and the National Consumers League. "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."[4]

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 surged approximately 13 percent.[4] On March 12, 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported that Ackman was under investigation by federal prosecutors and the FBI; Ackman was quoted that he would not back down from his claims against Herbalife.[4][5]

Valeant Pharmaceuticals

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. [50] The testifying panel answered questions related to the Committee's concerns for repercussions to patients and the health care system faced with Valeant's business model and controversial pricing practices.[51]


Ackman has given to charitable causes such as the Center for Jewish History to preserve Jewish genealogy[5] where he spearheaded a successful effort to retire their $30 million in debt, personally contributing $6.8 million.[53][5] This donation made with that of Bruce Berkowitz, founder of Fairholme Capital Management, and Joseph Steinberg, president of Leucadia National, were the three largest individual gifts that the center has ever received.[5]

Ackman's foundation donated $1.1 million to the Innocence Project in New York City and Centurion Ministries in Princeton, N.J. The two groups are dedicated to investigating the cases of people who have been wrongfully convicted.[53] He is a signatory of The Giving Pledge, committing himself to give away at least 50% of his wealth to charitable causes.[5]

Bill and Karen Ackman founded The Pershing Square Foundation in 2006 to support innovation in the areas of economic development, education, healthcare, human rights, arts and urban development.[5] Since it was founded, the foundation has committed more than $160 million in grants and social investments. In 2011, the Ackmans were among The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s "Philanthropy 50" list of the most generous donors.[58]

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. Ackman told Fortune he agreed to support the athletics-focused philanthropy because, “I can literally mark every stage in my life with sports events".[59]

Recent Pershing Square Foundation grants include:

  • A $25 million gift to Signature Theatre to fund the innovative Signature Ticket Initiative.[60]
  • A five-year, $10 million grant to Human Rights Watch in support of the advocacy organization's strategic plan and new initiatives in its Africa and Women's Rights divisions.[61]
  • $25 million to help improve the public-school system in Newark, New Jersey. When then Newark Mayor Cory Booker was seeking additional donors to match a $100-million pledge the Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg was making to Newark’s school system, the Ackmans’ foundation came forward with the biggest commitment yet, next to Mr. Zuckerberg’s.[58][62]
  • Grants totaling $6.5-million to the One Acre Fund since 2008, including a partnership with USAID.[63]
  • $1.5 million, three-year grant to Social Finance to introduce social impact bonds to the United States, with Pershing Square acting as a founding partner of Social Finance US.[64][65]

Personal life

He married Karen Ann Herskovitz, a graduate of Harvard University and a landscape architect, on July 10, 1994.[6] She is on the board of directors of Human Rights Watch[6] and on the board of Friends of the High Line.[68][53] They have three children.[7]