There's confidence. There's chutzpah. And then there's Dan Loeb, hedge fund king extraordinaire and head of Third Point Capital, who's getting set to claim the World Heavyweight Championship of Balls.
On April 18, Loeb will speak before the Council of Institutional Investors, a nonprofit association of pension funds, endowments, employee benefit funds, and foundations with collective assets of over $3 trillion. The CII is an umbrella group that represents the institutions who manage the retirement and benefit funds of public and corporate employees all over America – from bricklayers to Teamsters to teachers to employees of Colgate, the Gap and Johnson and Johnson.
Loeb is going to be, in essence, pitching his services to these institutional investors. He already manages the money for several public funds, including the Ohio Public Employees' Retirement System, the New Jersey State Investment Council, the Sacramento County Employees' Retirement System, and the City of Danbury Retirement System. To give you an idea of the scale, New Jersey alone has $100 million invested with one of Loeb's funds.
When he comes to speak at CII, Lobe will almost certainly be seeking new clients. There will be some serious whales in these waters: For instance, CalSTRS, the California State Teachers' Retirement System, will definitely be represented (Anne Sheehan, the director of corporate governance for CalSTRS, will be moderating Loeb's panel).
But here's the catch. Dan Loeb, who isn't known as the biggest hedge-fund asshole still working on Wall Street (only because Stevie Cohen hasn't been arrested yet), is on the board and co-founder of a group called Students First New York. And Students First has been one of the leading advocates pushing for states to abandon defined benefit plans – packages which guarantee certain retirement benefits for public workers like teachers – in favor of defined contribution plans, where the benefits are not guaranteed.
In other words, Loeb has been soliciting the retirement money of public workers, then turning right around and lobbying for those same workers to lose their benefits. He's essentially asking workers to pay for their own disenfranchisement (with Loeb getting his two-and-twenty cut, or whatever obscene percentage of their retirement monies he will charge as a fee). If that isn't the very definition of balls, I don't know what is.
It's one thing for a group like Students First to have an opinion about defined benefit plans in general, to say, as they have, that "today's district pensions and other benefits are not sustainable and contribute to a looming fiscal crisis." But it's another thing for a Vice President of Students First like Rebecca Sibilia to tweet the following just a few weeks before one of its board members asks for money from a fund like CalSTRS:
:That's a hell of a sales pitch for Loeb to be making: "I belong to an organization that thinks you're all dinosaurs. Now give me a hundred million dollars."
Outdated & underfunded #pension systems like CALSTERS break promises to #teachers#edreform #thinkED http://huff.to/15vdALJ via @HuffPostEdu
Not long ago, the American Federation of Teachers got wind of Loeb's association with Students First and their lobbying efforts, and confronted him about it, leading to a somewhat incredible correspondence, the details of which I'll get to in a moment. But first, a little background on Loeb.
Dan Loeb became famous in the early 2000s not just for being a jerk, but for being a very particular kind of jerk. His favorite activity was to invest heavily in a company and then write blisteringly insulting public letters to management, berating them for not making him enough money. When he spotted the CEO of one company courtside at the U.S. Open, he publicly attacked him for "hobnobbing and snacking on shrimp cocktail" when, presumably, he should have been out making Loeb money. Loeb loves the word "hobnob."
Loeb's schtick is a kind of living tribute to the legendary scene in Wall Street when Gordon Gekko undresses the executives from "Teldar Paper" at a shareholder meeting, urging investors to defy the fat-cat "bureaucrats with their steak lunches, their hunting and fishing trips" who paid themselves big salaries but lacked the stones to buy stock in their own firms. Like Gekko, Loeb pitches himself as the guy who does have the stones, who puts his money where his mouth is. Known as the "Angry Investor," he has made a career as a kind of investor's ombudsman – a man who wouldn't tolerate anyone taking his money and doing anything with it that he didn't absolutely approve of.
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