Last night embattled hedge fund manager Bill Ackman was on “Charlie Rose: The Week” explaining everything from Herbalife to JCPenney to Dan Loeb.
If you missed it, the whole thing will air tonight at 8:00 pm on Bloomberg.
“JCPanic” and the Herbalife hedge fund titan war aside, we learned a lot about Ackman the man in this interview — like how he wouldn’t want to do any other job than the one he has now. He said he’d even do it for free, because restructuring companies does such a service for the American economy.
Ackman’s got some ideas on that too — the American economy, that is — and those ideas led to a discussion about politics that made Ackman sound like he was stumping in Washington. He even touched on Mitt Romney (a topic no Wall Streeter has broached in a loooonnnng while).
From the transcript (via Bloomberg TV):
BILL ACKMAN: …I think what people forget is, you know, Wall Street has unfortunately in the last — certainly since the crisis, has gotten a pretty bad name, but Wall Street is responsible — it’s probably the biggest engine for job creation, enabling businesses to access capital, enabling businesses to grow. You look at Howard Hughes was a creation out of thin air. It’s now a business that employs — you know, it’s going to employ thousands of people, create a ton of jobs.
CHARLIE ROSE: Do you think the criticism of Mitt Romney during the campaign for his activities in running a private equity firm were unfair?
BILL ACKMAN: Yes, yes — absolutely. I think good, private equity investors create a lot more economic value than they destroy.
That’s when Bill, who has given money to both Republicans and Democrats over the years, and Charlie got down to solutions.
CHARLIE ROSE: What will save the country?
BILL ACKMAN: What will save the country are good economic policies that create the right incentives and an administration that is supportive of the business community. I think that’s actually very important. And, you know, policies that will make us competitive globally. It’s a global economy. The story today I think in today’s “Journal” about companies merging with European businesses to move their operations offshore from a tax point of view. We have to have a tax policy that discourages that kind of activity.
CHARLIE ROSE: So you can bring the money home.
BILL ACKMAN: Yes. I look at the United States —
CHARLIE ROSE: Is that the idea, have a tax policy so that the money will come home rather moving it offshore so you don’t have to pay taxes on it.
BILL ACKMAN: Yes. But I think if — you know, the United States is not dissimilar to the kind of companies we invest in. We invest generally in very good companies that have lost their way. And with better management, enormous value can be created.
If you look at Canadian Pacific, this was a dying —
CHARLIE ROSE: This is one of your investments.
BILL ACKMAN: — it was dying railroad under Hunter Harrison. And in very short order, you know, less than a year and a half he’s made dramatic changes to the business. The President is the CEO of this business that we call America. And the decisions he makes with respect to, you know, the way incentives are designed, the way he works with Congress as a leader in effectuating policy change can make an enormous difference in the growth rate of the country, in job creation, in happiness, in our safety I think that we can’t diminish the importance of business and business practices. I mean look at what Bloomberg has accomplished as the mayor of New York City. He took his for-profit mentality and has applied it to a city. And I think the city has accordingly thrived. I’d love to see the same thing happen to the country.
And here’s the kicker we know some of Wall Street was golf clapping for:
CHARLIE ROSE: So we should only let rich people?
BILL ACKMAN: No, but we should — I think that there’s a lot to be said to have someone with a business background making decisions about the economy.
Ackman closed the interview by saying that if he weren’t an investor, he might go into politics — but only if he could “effectuate change” the way he does at his hedge fund.
So Ackman for President?
Leave you thoughts in the comments.