William Ackman Shares His Views on Activist Investing With Alumni at Wall Street Committee Reception

William Ackman is managing member and portfolio manager of Pershing Square Capital Management.

Jul 1, 2009 — William Ackman, managing member and portfolio manager of Pershing Square Capital Management, captivated over 70 alumni with his keen insights into today’s financial markets and tomorrow’s economic future at a recent Yeshiva University Wall Street Committee reception held on June 22 at the offices of Credit Suisse.

A member of the Board of Dean’s Advisors at Harvard Business School, from which he received his MBA, Ackman has been known to grab headlines for his risky, bold and usually highly successful investments—for which he has earned a reputation as an “activist” investor. In 2008, Ackman created a fund that bet solely on the rise of Target Corp’s stock. The fund plummeted nearly 90 percent, eventually rebounding partially.

“William Ackman inspired alumni and Wall Street veterans to work hard but set aside time for family, to be confident yet humble and to persevere against obstacles,” said Evelyn Havasi-Stavsky ’82S, ’85C, a member of Stern College’s Board who is co-chair of the YU Wall Street Committee with Lawrence Askowitz ’87YC, a member of the Yeshiva College Board. “His investment lessons included looking for investments in companies with great management.”

Ackman shared an anecdote about how he passed up an opportunity to publish a book as a Harvard undergraduate after others warned him that it would flop. In hindsight, he said, the work may well have turned out to be very successful. “The best investments happen when you have the confidence to believe that you are right,” he concluded. “Of course, being right is never enough. You have to work with the delicate balance between conviction and humbleness.”

Ackman also revealed his thoughts on one of his investments, General Growth Properties (GGP), a publicly traded real estate investment trust. Calling GGP one of the best investments to get involved in today, Ackman predicted that the company would make a huge recovery after recently filing for bankruptcy.

Asked about his impressions of the Bush and Obama administrations, Ackman admonished President George W. Bush for addressing the needs of General Motors and other failed automotive companies too late into his administration. On the flipside, Ackman called President Barack Obama’s lending strategy regarding the automobile industry fair but stated that he “did not like all the ways it was orchestrated.”

Overall, he praised Obama’s “all-hands-on-deck” philosophy and his attempt to “get the most capable people on board his cabinet and financial teams.” But Ackman was critical of the administration for bailing out companies by excessive use of tax payers’ money. “I feel that you have to start at the holding companies, and only as a last resort, can you look to the pockets of the American people,” he noted.

Askowitz, the event’s introductory speaker, spoke about the uniqueness of Yeshiva University and its “commitment to excellence in the realms of Torah and Western culture.” Askowitz said that the evening’s presentation was an extension of the far-reaching wisdom imparted to him during his college years.

See photos from the event here.

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