Bill Ackman Explains How He ‘Lost Control of His Emotions’ at Last Week’s Target Meeting


Last week, after activist investor William Ackman lost his long-running and wildly expensive proxy battle against Target, he treated attendees at the company's shareholder meeting to a long, florid speech, one that paraphrased Martin Luther King and quoted from JFK's inauguration speech: “We will pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship,” he said, as a single tear rolled down his cheek. But this stirring oratory didn't make the impression Ackman hoped it would. The Times' Joe Nocera, for one, was appalled, and took Ackman to task in his column the next day. "I’ve seen my share of odd moments during annual meetings, but until Thursday I’d never seen a grown man cry," he said, before going on to call Ackman a "spoiled child" whose fight against the company amounted to little more than "an act of pique."

Ackman, naturally, could not bear this kind of criticism. And so he stayed up all night long penning a 5,000-word response to the columnist, which Nocera has since reprinted on his blog. In it, he addresses what we will henceforth call the Tear, which he describes as being brought on by the sudden realization that the speech he had penned was too great for this room of rank fools. "While reciting the spoken words for the first time at the meeting, I recognized the sublime significance of JFK’s quotation that seemed so on point when I wrote my remarks that morning, but so far above the importance of what this mundane shareholder meeting was about," he said.

As I spoke these words in the meeting I was carried back to Kennedy’s soaring oratory, and I briefly lost control of my emotions in a way that had not previously happened to me at a business occasion. The tear was not for the loss of a proxy contest as Mr. Nocera implies, but rather in recognition of the significance of JFK’s words nearly 50 years ago. It may also have represented some amount of physical and emotional fatigue."

Kind of like he must have been feeling by the time he finished this letter and pressed Send, we guess. But at least it's less pompous than his earlier drafts, which Daily Intel got a hold of.

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

“It often requires more courage to dare to do right than to fear to do wrong.”

I was Business Drunk

Bill Ackman Bites Back [Executive Suite/NYT]
Investor Exits and Leaves Puzzlement [NYT]
Previously: Bill Ackman Had a Dream