Last week, the biggest news at the crossroads of Wall Street and Silicon Valley was Elliott Management’s announcement of a multi-billion dollar position in Marc Benioff’s Salesforce, Inc. “Salesforce is one of the preeminent software companies in the world, and having followed the company for nearly two decades, we have developed a deep respect for Marc Benioff and what he has built,” Jesse Cohn, the wunderkind activist at Elliott, said in a dose of marvelous understated grin-fucking.
Benioff deserves much of the respect generally lavished upon him, of course, but he should also be worried. Cohn, 43, grew up in Baldwin, Long Island, the son of a lawyer father and an artist mother. He graduated summa cum laude from Wharton in 2002, with a degree in finance, and then headed to Morgan Stanley as an analyst in the firm’s two-year junior banker program. From there, Cohn joined Elliott in 2004 as a research analyst, focused on investing in distressed securities and undervalued technology companies.
Cohn was pretty much an instant success at Elliott. He cashed in big time on his first deal: An investment in Enterasys Networks, a small computer-networking company that had been spun out of Cabletron Systems, an early competitor to Cisco Systems, that was co-founded by my childhood friend, S. Robert Levine. Cohn had Elliott buy a 10 percent stake in Enterasys and then pushed for its lucrative sale to a financial buyer. Cohn struck paydirt again on another obscure tech company, Metrologic Instruments. After buying an equity stake in Metrologic for Elliott, he convinced the company’s board to sell to Francisco Partners, a buyout firm, for $420 million. Elliott kept a 20 percent stake in the company and then arranged for its sale, a few years later, to Honeywell, for $720 million.