Legendary activist investor Bill Ackman is trying to change his image from the “corporate raider everyone loves to hate” to something much friendlier, according to this month’s Forbes cover story.
And that something might look like Warren Buffett.
Forbes’ Antoine Gara reports that Ackman is remodeling himself after the Oracle of Omaha, who, after acquiring the textile company Berkshire Hathaway, “began swallowing businesses and stashing them under it.”
Gara says Ackman’s own personal Berkshire Hathaway is his Nevada real estate firm, Howard Hughes, of which he is the chair and owns 26%. The theory is that Ackman will use Howard Hughes as a holding company with which to build his empire.
Activist investors like Ackman have seen a bit of pushback recently: everyone from Senator Elizabeth Warren to BlackRock’s Larry Fink have pointed fingers at shareholder activists who pressure companies into potentially unhealthy corporate actions like boosting stock buybacks and raising dividend payouts.
Ackman defended activist investing in an interview with Bloomberg TV’s Stephanie Ruhle on Monday, saying “the kinds of changes that we propose, the kind of changes that an excellent activist proposes, are not short-term changes to derive short-term value. They’re changes to fundamentally improve a business over many, many years.”
He said activism is “critically important” — but, according to Forbes, Ackman’s first success was in real estate, and it sounds like he’s now looking to return to his roots.
Howard Hughes is currently planning a 35-square mile residential community in Summerlin, Nevada, according to the story. They own nearly 6,000 acres in the surround area and have plans to build 4,000 residential units and 1.4 million square feet of office space there.
And that’s just the beginning. The corporation also owns a minor league baseball team in Las Vegas and air rights above a mall on The Strip near the Wynn hotel, Gara reported. He hinted that Ackman and Howard Hughes CEO David Weinreb may be planning a casino next.
Too bad Warren Buffett finds gambling “socially revolting.” Maybe they’re not that similar after all.