Wednesday, December 5, 2012
ROB Magazine’s CEO of the Year: Bill Ackman
It is a grey, blustery New York morning, days before Hurricane Sandy will unleash its fury on the city, and Bill Ackman is tearing his way through a day that started just after dawn.
He is running on just a few hours of sleep, his private jet having returned him home the night before after a whirlwind four-day trip through Korea and Singapore. His first stop was dropping the youngest of his three daughters at a small, private grade school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. By 8 o’clock, he is sitting next to me at Sarabeth’s, a popular eatery on Madison Avenue, inspecting an egg-white and spinach omelette.
Dressed in a close-fitting navy blue suit, he leans over the table, head bowed, as he fires off pointed responses to my questions—sometimes even before I’ve finished asking them.
Here on the Upper East Side, Ackman is just another silver-haired billionaire eating a $20 breakfast. In Canada, however, he is the boardroom barbarian who toppled four-star corporate generals at one of the country’s most historic companies. It has been 20 years since the 46-year-old Ackman launched his first hedge fund and began building a reputation as the most active activist on Wall Street, betting against overhyped companies and arm-twisting directors into fixing broken businesses. He has had some flops, but today he waves them off. He can afford to. His hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital Management, now ranks as one of the world’s biggest and most feared activist forces, with $11-billion in assets under administration.