Poor JC Penney has an identity problem and it drives investor William Ackman mad. He doesn't understand--and how could he? Mr. Ackman has strode through the world unimpeded by doubt, from magna cum laude life at Harvard to hedge fund emperor--with not a few world-conquering maneuvers in between. Which all makes him a strange suitor for timid Penney, a decidedly plain girl stepping cautiously for over a century, always wanting to be liked by the most people possible--even going so far as to offer herself at a discount to achieve her tenuous popularity. Why did Ackman want a piece of her in the first place? The numbers must have sung like sirens--plus every type-A tycoon harbors fantasies about the simpler things in life. You'll sometimes see them stare in awe at the madding crowd before they slide into their Bentleys. Ackman himself has given generously to numerous causes that benefit regular folk, in the popular political lexicon.
As for Penney, she's doubtless feeling torn apart, with so many different men pulling her this way and that, telling her what she is and isn't. (Myron "Mike" Ullman and Thomas Engibous now preside.) Ackman had wanted Penney to be a beautiful genius, and he brought in Apple Store impresario Ron Johnson to make her thin and gorgeous like an Airbook. Her friends called her snobby and fled. She's been crying since and Ackman just can't stand it. Stop blubbering! Self-pity and lack of direction (on top of that identity thing) were utterly incomprehensible to him, so he quit. Quit the board of directors anyway, saying it's for the best. With 18% he'll make sure somehow it's for the best. And next time he wants to leave the gala and hit the hoedown, Ackman will at least ask Target (he's dated her) or some other suitably ambitious regular gal. Or based on his recent $2 billion bet on industrial gas (APD), maybe Ackman just plans to stay in his tuxedo.
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