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Pershing Square’s Ackman retires from ‘vocal’ activist life

BOSTON, March 29 (Reuters) – Billionaire investor William Ackman, who has spent years building a reputation as a vocal corporate agitator, now plans to work mostly behind the scenes with management and embrace what he calls a ‘quieter approach’ to forcing change.

Fresh off three years of strong double-digit returns, Ackman told investors on Tuesday that corporate America now knows who he is and there’s no need for the kind of loud tactics other activist investors might employ. .

“All of our interactions with the companies over the past five years have been cordial, constructive and productive,” Ackman wrote in Pershing Square Holdings’ annual report.

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“So if it’s worth calling this quieter approach Pershing Square 3.0, let it be so anointed,” he wrote.

Ackman put in writing on Tuesday what investors had long suspected; the once talkative investor who led raucous proxy contests at Target (TGT.N), Canadian Pacific Railway (CP.TO) and Automatic Data Processing Inc (ADP.O) was shifting gears.

Pershing Square’s recent investments – Netflix (NFLX.O) and Canadian Pacific, again – underscore the new mood as Ackman immediately praised the men in charge. In the early years, his lobbying campaigns often led to CEO changes at companies like JC Penney, Air Products and Chemicals (APD.N) and Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG.N).

Ackman also said he would never dive into the loudest activism again: “activist short-selling” like he did at nutrition company Herbalife (HLF.N).

“We have permanently retired from this line of work,” he wrote.

Ironically, as Ackman struggles to stay out of the spotlight, Carl Icahn, the prominent activist he fought publicly on cable TV on Herbalife, seems to be slipping away.

Supermarket chain Kroger Co (KR.N) said on Tuesday that Icahn plans to appoint two people to its board. He is also battling for board seats at McDonald’s (MCD.N) and battling against Southwest Gas Holdings (SWX.N).

Meanwhile, Ackman wrote that Pershing Square 3.0 will make “our jobs easier and more fun, and our quality of life better.”

While Pershing Square takes small losses for 2022, the company is still doing much better than the broader stock market thanks to interest rate hedges that have protected it against a sharp market decline. The last three years have been lucrative. In 2021, Pershing Square Holdings returned 26.9% after a 70.2% gain in 2020 and a 58.1% increase in 2019.

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Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Bernard Orr

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