The way that Bill Ackman tends to make money, very generally, is as an "activist" investor, which means that he puts together concerted attacks on what he believes to be weak companies in order to win concessions from them that earn money and control for him and his firm. This makes him extremely hated by many in the corporate world. Critics say he "strip mines" companies and harms them in order to reap profits for himself. Sometimes, as he did this year in a deal that netted his firm billions, he operates even more shadily. From a lengthy profile of Ackman in Bloomberg Markets, out today:
With Allergan, Ackman provoked in a different way. He bought more than 28 million shares in the company knowing he and Valeant were about to try to take it over. Even his critics acknowledged the move was brilliant. (It brought Icahn around; he told CNBC: "I never said he's not a smart guy. I think the concept of this is good.") Still, the bid with Valeant raised questions. "Ackman's conduct seems designed to operate on the edges of legality," says Harvey Pitt, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
There is an insider trading lawsuit pending about that deal, but overall Wall Street was very impressed with Ackman's cunning.
A reasonable person might assume that Bill Ackman doesn't care about all the criticism he gets, because he is making so much $$$. In fact, Bill Ackman does care. He wants to be seen not just as a conqueror, but as a hero, a white knight exposing hidden truths about weak companies, and incidentally getting rich in the process. Bill Ackman—whose entire life is and has been dedicated to the practice of unapologetically making unlimited amounts of money—wants to be loved.
At one point, in response to a question using the term billionaire, he visibly cringes. "It's a weird word; I don't like what it conveys," says Ackman, who, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, is worth $1.6 billion. "Billionaire sounds like it's someone who's all about the money. The only thing money has meant to me is independence."
This is where Bill Ackman, a man who is no doubt brilliant in his field, loses touch with reality. "The only thing money has meant to me is independence," says the motherfucker who bought a $90 million condo for "fun." No. You and your fellow billionaires cannot have it both ways, Bill Ackman. You can have billions of dollars, or you can be admired as someone who is not "all about the money," but you cannot have both. Make your choice and live with it, foul rich barons with black souls and selfish philosophies! When you purposely accumulate far more wealth than any person would need in a hundred lifetimes, you have chosen to forsake the possibility of being seen as someone who is not overly concerned with money.
Don't like what the word "billionaire" conveys? Give away your billions. Then you won't have to worry about it.