Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | March 11, 2013

The Smartest Jerk in the Room

Over at Crooked Timber, Corey Robin has an excellent post about William Ackman, a billionaire hedge fund manager. Ackman is one of those super-competitive types who is, in Robin’s phrase, “loathed…by his colleagues.” Robin points to and draws upon a profile of Ackman in Vanity Fair. Here is one illustrative story from the summer of 2012:

Ackman decided to join a group of a half-dozen dedicated cyclists, including [billionaire hedge-fund dude Daniel] Loeb, who take long bike rides together in the Hamptons. The plan was for Loeb, who is extremely serious about fitness and has done sprint triathlons, a half-Ironman, and a New York City Marathon, to pick up Ackman…The two would cycle the 20 or so miles to Montauk, where they would meet up with the rest of the group and ride out the additional 6 miles to the lighthouse, at the tip of the island. “I had done no biking all summer,” Ackman now admits. Still, he went out at a very fast clip, his hypercompetitive instincts kicking in. As he and Loeb approached Montauk, Loeb texted his friends, who rode out to meet them from the opposite direction. The etiquette would have been for Ackman and Loeb to slow down and greet the other riders, but Ackman just blew by at top speed. The others fell in behind, at first struggling to keep up with the alpha leader. But soon enough Ackman faltered—at Mile 32, Ackman recalls—and fell way behind the others. He was clearly “bonking,” as they say in the cycling world, which is what happens when a rider is dehydrated and his energy stores are depleted.

While everyone else rode back to Loeb’s East Hampton mansion, one of Loeb’s friends, David “Tiger” Williams, a respected cyclist and trader, painstakingly guided Ackman, who by then could barely pedal and was letting out primal screams of pain from the cramps in his legs, back to Bridgehampton. “I was in unbelievable pain,” Ackman recalls. As the other riders noted, it was really rather ridiculous for him to have gone out so fast, trying to lead the pack, considering his lack of training. Why not acknowledge your limits and set a pace you could maintain? As one rider notes, “I’ve never had an experience where someone has gone from being so aggressive on a bike to being so hopelessly unable to even turn the pedals…. His mind wrote a check that his body couldn’t cash.”

I find personalities like Ackman’s grating and avoid them whenever possible.

Also, fwiw, I remember my SAT scores (and my LSAT score from several years later), but I do not think that remembering SAT scores is so unusual (or revealing). (Your mileage may vary.)

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