According to the Wall Street Journal that’s how Bill Ackman got the upper hand on longtime rival Carl Icahn last Thursday. Ackman, who was already up nearly a billion after legally front-running a takeover of Botox maker Allergan (AGN) was doubling down by getting long friendship with his septuagenarian tormentor ahead of any official declaration of peace in their 11-year feud.
Presumably Icahn coolly assessed his position and realized there was still some meat on the bone in this forgiveness scheme Ackman was assembling. “It is a blessing to forgive,” Icahn reportedly responded, “and I forgive you.”
Ackman says the two parties have simply agreed to disagree on Herbalife (HLF). In fact, based on Herbalife’s announcing a plan to attempt to jam its own stock higher via a buyback last night, it seems Icahn and Ackman are still actively fighting on Herbalife. That’s OK. Fighting is how corporate raiders say howdy to one another. As Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief Aaron Task says in the attached video, Icahn had to respect Ackman’s move on Allergan. Out of such respect are friendships borne.
Task notes that Ackman’s tweak on the corporate raider model could work for Carl as well. Icahn was roused to Ackman’s defense when outsiders questioned the legality of his getting long 9.7% of Allergan immediately prior to helping rival Valent (VRX) launch a hostile bid. “I think Icahn looked at (the deal) and said ‘this kid’s pretty sharp! Maybe I can learn something from him.’”
Icahn actually misquoted the bible slightly in Ackman’s telling. Romans 4:7 reads “blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven.” Either way there is a blessing to be had in the forgiveness racquet but little is said about expressing contrition. There seems to be a risk associated with apologizing in both the old and new testament.
Saying “I’m sorry” is like buying a stock without knowing for sure there’s a $50 billion corporation about to drive it 30% higher. On the other hand, offering preemptive forgiveness apparently banks a blessing risk free and creates a high-probability of being forgiven in return.
Only suckers apologize. Winners simply fight then forgive one another while looking for ways to fight some more. Like was once said of love, being a corporate raider means never having to say you’re sorry.