Ackman: philanthropy is a good investment now

Jeffrey Goldberg tells the tale in this month’s Atlantic of how he came to fire his investment broker.

The short of it, Goldberg finds out after dealing with Merrill Lynch, taking a bath with them and then not hearing for his broker for 9 months and then after consulting with some of the world’s best investors – those conversations of course make up the meat of his story – Goldberg, a journalist, simply is not wealthy enough to be an investor. And he never will be.

But during his story, he recounts an evening at the apartment of a friend of his, uber investor Boaz Weinstein, where a number of wealthy Manhattanits had gathered to talk about a philanthropic venture. (One colleague of mine has hypothesized the because Goldberg, Weinstein and Bill Ackman, the founder of Pershing Square Capital, were present that it was perhaps a meeting of the Natan Fund, a Jewish philanthropic investment group made up mainly of hedge funders, but with whom Goldberg is involved. But we have not confirmation on that whatsoever. )

Here’s Ackman’s take on philanthropy now, according to Goldberg:

“I thought this was a perfect time to talk about philanthropy and investing, because they’ve merged; they’re both tax-deductible at this point,” Ackman said, opening his talk. He spoke mainly of the psychic rewards of charitable giving, and of specific projects he supported. He asked for questions, which mainly concerned his prodigious charitable giving. Then someone asked a question about Ackman’s reputation:

“It used to be that in America, if you were a successful businessman, you were well-regarded. Now it seems that you are an evildoer if you’re successful, particularly in the financial world. Your profile is getting bigger. Do you think that’s good, or do people say, ‘He should be spending more time in the office and not so much out there’?”

Ackman responded: “A lot of hedge-fund managers I know are incredibly charitable and also fundamentally great people. But the press—first of all, you don’t make that much money working for the press. Take The New York Times. The New York Times doesn’t make that much money, and the people who work there don’t make that much money. So you think about people who work for the press—generally, they resent people who have financial success. A combination of that, plus some bad actors in the business, is a negative. Why did I go on Charlie Rose? Why have I been a little more public? Part of that is to blunt some of the negative associations with our industry.”

Hmmm. Yes, well.

 

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