Ackman’s Revenge & The Iger Hollywood Ending

If you thought Bill Ackman would be placated by the resignation of University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill, following the congressional hearing during which she and other academic leaders fumbled their answers about antisemitism on campus, then you haven’t been paying attention.
If you thought Bill Ackman would be placated by the resignation of University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill, following the congressional hearing during which she and other academic leaders fumbled their answers about antisemitism on campus, then you haven’t been paying attention. Photo: Adrian Edwards/GC Images
William D. Cohan
January 7, 2024

If I’ve learned anything about Bill Ackman over the 11 years I’ve known him, he’s a pitbull in sheep’s clothing. Outwardly, and most of the time, he is refined, polite, thoughtful, even caring. But once the bit is in the mouth, watch out; he doesn’t easily let go of it. He fought the Herbalife fight for years, even though it was clear relatively quickly, and certainly once Carl Icahn and Dan Loeb took the other side of the trade, that he was fighting a losing battle. And lose he did—to the tune of $1 billion. Not to be outdone by that loss, he then rode Valeant Pharmaceuticals into the ground, vaporizing $4 billion. That would have been the death knell for most other hedge fund managers. But not Bill Ackman.

He bounces back, time and again, the Rasputin of hedge fund managers. His gutsy bet on credit default swaps in the first weeks of the pandemic, in which he turned $27 million into $3.6 billion, remains one of the greatest trades of all time. Over the years, Ackman has had other dramatic successes—Burger King, General Growth Properties—and other embarrassing mistakes (Target, JCPenney). Never in his life has he appeared to internalize the losses.