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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Activist Investing Lesson from Bill Ackman

Have you heard the latest news about the ousting of Harvard University’s president? Claudine Gay resigned on January 2nd, and the conflicting opinions about her departure are the talk of the town. Progressives see her as Harvard’s first black president who was the target of a smear campaign, while conservatives view her as a plagiarist who failed to address antisemitism on campus. However, what some may not realize is that there’s more to this story than meets the eye. Bill Ackman, a well-known activist investor, played a significant role in these events.

Ackman is not only one of Wall Street’s more vocal hedge-fund managers, but also one of Harvard’s major donors, having generously given the university $50 million. He has been publicly criticizing Harvard for its failure to protect Jewish students from antisemitic attacks, and was a driving force behind the recent pressure for leadership changes at the university.

After a congressional hearing where university presidents evaded questions about antisemitic issues on campus, Ackman made a bold statement about the relative quality of governance at the schools. Soon after, two of the three presidents involved were ousted from their positions. This is just one example of Ackman’s history as a fierce boardroom activitist.

What can be learned from his recent campaign at Harvard? First, Ackman was not acting alone. He was part of a group of individuals who shared similar concerns and goals. This collective action provided financial leverage and forensic analysis of the situation. By collaborating, they were able to prompt the change they sought in leadership.

While approval of an activist campaign from multiple parties is crucial, persistence is also key. Ackman’s continuous efforts in combating antisemitism and holding leadership accountable made a significant impact, leading to concrete results at Harvard. However, escalating the campaign and taking on broader challenges within the academic establishment could prove to be far more difficult and complicated.

So, here’s what we can take away from Ackman’s recent ventures: collective action, thorough analysis, and persistence can be powerful tools in enacting change in a system or organization. It’s important to recognize the impact that activists can have, but also the complexities and challenges that come with such endeavors. This story is a reminder of the ongoing importance of activism and the role it plays in shaping our institutions and systems into what we believe they should become. Keep up with this topic by tuning in to our latest podcasts and articles, and stay informed on the power of activism and change.

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