By any standard, January 25, 2013, began like any other for the thousands of traders, money managers and financiers making their way to Wall Street’s canyons that morning, albeit with a snow-dusted commute — the first of the season.
But by 1pm, it wasn’t the wintery weather topping the tape. Rather, it was a public brawl so outrageous and audacious, few could believe what had just taken place. For the better part of the previous hour, investing titans Carl Icahn and Bill Ackman had hurled insults at each other on live TV – on my CNBC program — bringing trading to a near standstill in what some would call the Greatest Moment in the History of Financial Television.
Icahn called Ackman, “a crybaby in the school yard… a major loser.” And worse.
Ackman said Icahn was a bully with a bad reputation.
From Davos to Dallas, mouths were agape.
Thus would begin one of the biggest battles Wall Street had ever seen – a fight to the finish with the multi-level marketing company Herbalife caught in the middle. Ackman had massively shorted the stock, a billion dollar bet that came with a bold claim. Herbalife was a pyramid scheme, he charged, and the stock was destined for the dumpster.
If he only knew who was lurking. And waiting.
Perched high above midtown Manhattan in his office overlooking the most enticing stretch of Central Park, the legend, Carl Icahn had seen enough. Icahn had become one of New York City’s richest men by rarely backing down. He had spent decades dueling with CEO’s and others and was always looking for a score. If that meant a fight, or two along the way, so be it. He had heard of Ackman’s assault, decried his histrionics and couldn’t resist. Icahn quickly took the other side of the trade – payback it seemed for a decade-old rift that had festered for too long.
For five years they would battle. Other A-listers would jump in and take sides.
Wall Street would never be the same.
Neither would Herbalife, which would fight like hell for its own survival. Ackman compared the company to the Nazis, said its CEO was a predator, likening its legions of distributors to near criminals preying on the less fortunate, mostly unsuspecting immigrants.
In the end, the struggle would put the art of activist investing in the spotlight – the methods and objectives of some of the most high-profile money men on the planet. Had all of it gone too far, some wondered?
When The Wolves Bite is the fascinating true story behind the battle of the billionaires, with the book capturing the great lengths two of the world’s best-known investors would go to win, while offering a vivid portrait of the greed, power and ambition that runs rampant on Wall Street.
I wrote this book because I don’t think there will ever be a story like this again – a tale of two egos – two masters of the universe fighting so publicly, so openly and for so long.
Scott Wapner, an award-winning and Emmy-nominated journalist, is currently Host of CNBC’s Fast Money Halftime Report, which airs weekdays 12 pm to 1 pm. When The Wolves Bite, which will be released on April 24th (Pre-order here), is his first book.