Ackman Jokes About Career Falling Apart at Florida Tennis EventBy
He recently lost $4 billion on a ‘huge mistake’ with Valeant
Days after apology to investors, he faces peers at tournament
Just before matches began at the Finance Cup tennis tournament near Miami Beach, bankers and investors huddled around hedge-fund manager Bill Ackman to hear him riff about the stakes for his portfolio.
The annual event, which marked its third year on Saturday, pits American financial professionals including Ackman against their European counterparts. To hear him tell it, the U.S. victory in 2015 coincided with the peak of his investing prowess. “And then I made the mistake of losing and my career fell apart,” he said, prompting nervous laughter from the crowd. Just last week, Ackman apologized to investors for his investment in Valeant Pharmaceuticals, saying in an annual letter the “huge mistake” cost his firm about $4 billion.
“This year, hopefully we’re back,” he said Saturday.
That gave way to applause, and teammate Jeffrey Appel -- an investment banker who organizes the event -- shouted over the noise, “He’s resilient, though! Look at this man! This man’s resilient!”
True to his word, the U.S. team won this year’s cup 9-2.
The weekend outing provided a window into the ways Ackman is dealing with the most high-profile misstep of his career. On Saturday, surrounded by peers, he tried a little self-deprecating humor.
In his annual letter to investors last week, Ackman was contrite. He said he was “deeply and profoundly” sorry for the Valeant investment, which he called a “huge mistake.” He took the blame for misjudging the company’s management and strategy. The stock lost more than 95 percent of its value since its August 2015 peak as it got caught up in a series of controversies shortly after Ackman’s Pershing Square bought in.
Under a sweltering sun, Ackman tried to stay focused on tennis. He and doubles partner Walter Dolhare -- wearing shirts with the Pershing Square logo on the sleeve -- lost 6-1, 6-1 to a European duo including Cevian Capital co-founder Christer Gardell. Ackman battled hard, grunting during serves, giving himself pep-talks after errors and letting his tongue hang out in the manner made famous by basketball star Michael Jordan. Ackman also fielded tips from a friend in the crowd. (He declined to comment on business.)
Appel, who organized the event, said it encourages networking and that several younger players have used it as a stepping stone to advance their careers. Ackman, 50, and Gardell, 56, were the headliners, but the event also included several former professionals and others who had been elite tennis players in college.
It was held on Fisher Island, accessible only by boat. Equity membership at the Fisher Island Club, where the tennis was played and the pre-match buffet served, goes for $250,000, plus $20,330 annually. Participants then met for dinner Saturday night at Prime 112 in Miami Beach. Appel said Ackman’s Pershing Square Foundation will donate $10,000 to the Junior Tennis Champions Center in honor of sportsmanship award winner Richey Reneberg, who won the 1992 U.S. Open doubles title.
Ackman’s remarks also included a quip about how he had learned from “The Donald” -- as in President Trump -- to “make America great again.” And he joked that British players would be excluded from next year’s cup on account of the U.K.’s plan to leave the European Union.