Bill Ackman and His Hedge Fund, Betting Big

William A. Ackman, the silver-haired, silver-tongued hedge fund mogul, gestured out the window of a 42nd-floor conference room at Pershing Square Capital Management in Midtown Manhattan. The view was spectacular, but Mr. Ackman’s arm extended not downward, toward the vibrant fall foliage of Central Park, but skyward toward the top of a glittering glass building just around the corner on 57th Street.

He was pointing toward One57, a new 90-story, lavish hotel and condominium building described by one critic as “a luxury object for people who see the city as their private snow globe.” Specifically, Mr. Ackman was referring to the penthouse apartment. Named the Winter Garden, for a curved glass atrium that opens to the sky, it is a 13,500-square-foot duplex with an eagle’s-eye view of the park.

And it will belong to Mr. Ackman. When the sale closes, the reported $90 million price would be the highest ever paid for a Manhattan apartment. It is, he explained, “the Mona Lisa of apartments.” Never will there be another like it.

But Mr. Ackman, 48, doesn’t intend to live there. He lives at the Beresford, off Central Park, with his wife and daughters. The Winter Garden is just another investment opportunity for him and a few others. “I thought it would be fun,” he said, “so myself and a couple of very good friends bought into this idea that someday, someone will really want it and they’ll let me know.” Maybe he will hold some parties there in the meantime.

Whether it’s a top-of-the-world apartment, an attack on a company or even his annual vacations with friends (the next trip is Navy SEAL training), Bill Ackman does everything big.

And this may be his biggest year yet. Overseeing more than $17 billion, his hedge fund is up 32 percent in a year when many other hedge funds are just breaking even. He recently completed a public offering of stock in Europe of part of Pershing Square, and while the shares are trading below the offering price, he still raised $2.7 billion that he can use to make more big bets. He’s also a driving force behind one of the biggest — and certainly the most controversial — potential mergers of the year: Valeant’s $53 billion hostile takeover bid for Allergan, the maker of Botox.


The 90-story Manhattan tower One57, where Mr. Ackman is buying the penthouse apartment for a reported price of $90 million. He calls the penthouse “the Mona Lisa of apartments.”CreditElizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times

His critics agree that he’s big. They say he stands out for his big mouth and oversize ego, an accomplishment in the hedge fund world. (Even back in high school, his tennis teammates presented him with a T-shirt that read: “A closed mouth gathers no foot.”) Others warn that his fund has a risk of blowing up. His portfolio is made up of bets on less than a dozen companies. (The Allergan stake alone made up 37 percent of his fund earlier this fall, according to filings.) That means when things go bad, they can go really bad. That’s what happened when his $2 billion bet on Target through a separate fund lost 90 percent of its value at one point.

He has wagered $1 billion that Herbalife, the nutritional supplement company, will fail. So far, that bet hasn’t panned out, and even one of his closest advisers has called his theatrics on the subject — including a teary, three-hour rant this summer in front of nearly 500 people — a mistake.


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