The Fabulous Life Of Secretive Investor, Peter Ackerman

bill ackerman

Rockport Capital’s Peter Ackerman is back in the news, but not for his business pursuits.

The former junk-bond trader at Drexel Burnham has granted Bloomberg a rare interview about his latest venture: a strange US political group called American Elect. As its chairman, Ackerman wants voters to use American Elect to choose a cross-party presidential ticket online, and then have it appear on every state ballot in the 2012 election.

Ackerman has pumped more than $5 million into the disruptive scheme, which already has ballot spots in 13 states, including California, and boasts a $22 million warchest, according to the report.

It’s just the latest twist in the entertaining life of a truly bizarre businessman.

Ackerman was born in New York and graduated with a degree in political science at Colgate University.

He also holds three advanced degrees from Tufts University's Fletcher School in Boston, where he wrote his thesis on Mahatma Gandhi, and how his passive resistance movement helped India win independence from England.

Peter is married to Joanne Leedom, and has two children with the journalist/novelist.

For his first date with Leedom, he took her to a lecture then played tabletop ice hockey.

Ackerman turned to business when he took a job at Drexel Burnhan in 1973.

He worked his way up to head the firm's junk-bond team, helping raise funds for Kohlberg Kravis Roberts's 1988 takeover of RJR Nabisco -- the deal at the heart of the book, Barbarians at the Gate. He took home a $165 million salary that year, the second-largest in Wall Street's history at the time, according to BusinessWeek,

The devout Christian is said to live a relatively frugal life.

'Ackerman spent quite modestly on creature comforts during his years of immodest income,' says BusinessWeek.

In another potential insight into Ackerman's financial life, one of his wife's novels, The Dark Path to the River, features a young investment banker and his ex-journalist wife, who deals with the family's growing income by writing checks to camp scholarship funds and Good Will.

Ackerman is notoriously secretive, rarely granting media interviews.

He wouldn't give his phone number to the Institute for Strategic Studies in London, where he was a visiting fellow, and he never allowed Drexel to publish his photo.

But his name was tarnished when Drexel filed for bankruptcy in 1990.

The firm collapsed under the weight of a huge inventory of junk bonds accumulated months before the market faded, erasing almost all their value. According to BusinessWeek, many of Ackerman's colleagues held him responsible for the mistakes that caused the bankruptcy, although he escaped charges by paying millions to settle a slew of resulting civil claims.

'Peter Ackerman is a real Teflon guy,' one banker told the magazine at the time.

Ackerman brushed himself off during the 90s, when he set up private investment firms Rockport Capital, in London, and Crown Capital in the US.

He is also the majority owner of web-based grocer FreshDirect, which operates in New York.

Fresh Direct has been a great success but he has seen his fair of failure, too.

From Bloomberg: 'Ackerman lost $14 million on Resort theatres of America Inc. in 1999, which planned to build movie houses at vacation spots. A $15 million co-investment in a towel-making factory in Mexico also came to nothing. He invested $20 million in preferred shares of Los Angeles advertising company Emak Worldwide Inc. in 2000. Emak filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010, emerging in 2011.'

Peter and FreshDirect are also being sued by Rick Braddock, the group's former CEO.

Peter Ackerman fired Braddock in 2011, replacing him with Jason Ackerman, the older Ackerman's nephew. Braddock told Bloomberg he received no severance after the surprise ousting and that his $6.5 million investment in the group was frozen without talk of a settlement.

His latest splash into American politics follows a rich history of international intervention.

Ackerman funded the centre for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies, whose founders went on to train some of the members of the Egyptian movement that took down President Hosni Mubarak last year.

He also helped set up the Albert Einstein Institution, which advises protestors how to take down dictators via peaceful protests, and co-wrote two books on non-violent action.

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