A strangely subdued Bill Ackman revisits criticisms of Procter & Gamble

P&G CEO Robert A. McDonald assumes a defensive crouch.
P&G CEO Robert A. McDonald assumes a defensive crouch.
Image: AP Photo/Al Behrman
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*UPDATED at 7:05 pm. A person familiar with P&G said McDonald is only involved with seven other organizations besides P&G.

Lately, hedge fund manager and activist investor Bill Ackman has tried to lay low. Since his infamous fight in February with fellow activist investor Carl Icahn on CNBC over their differing views on Herbalife, Ackman has shied away from the media.

Today, Ackman spoke on the record at the Ira Sohn hedge fund conference, and journalists and other attendees eagerly awaited his remarks. Ackman, known as an incredible salesman, is usually forceful and energetic during his speeches. But when he turned his attention to Procter & Gamble—an investment for his fund, Pershing Square—his demeanor was quiet and undemonstrative, puzzling many of those who expected a more bombastic assault.

Instead he mostly echoed comments he made last year criticizing the management of Procter & Gamble, particularly its CEO, Bob McDonald. Ackman said McDonald has been distracted by the 21 boards he sits on besides P&G’s, and put McDonald on notice that he is running out of time to improve P&G’s performance.

Ackman also argued that P&G is underperforming, with organic growth at 3% while its competitors are at 7%, and  that it has bloated overheads, low manufacturing productivity, and is inefficiently organized, and is spending too much on marketing.

Ackman didn’t mention the more controversial companies he’s been involved in like JC Penney, an investment he bragged about last year. The department chain has faced a steep drop in sales since then, which led to a CEO change. He only briefly mentioned Herbalife, the company he accused of being a pyramid scheme, joking that the title for P&G’s presentation (“A Rising Tide is a Good Gamble”) was an interesting title for a Herbalife discussion.

Has Bill Ackman decided he’s had enough drama for a while?