Ackman, Thiel Back Investor Fighting ‘Political Agendas’

(Bloomberg) — Hedge fund manager Bill Ackman and Peter Thiel, a supporter of former President Donald Trump, are backing a startup investing firm that says it plans to go head to head against large money managers that promote stakeholder capitalism and “political agendas.”

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Strive Asset Management, co-founded by pharmaceutical investor Vivek Ramaswamy, has raised about $20 million, according to a statement Tuesday. Ramaswamy said large fund managers are investing their clients’ money to influence US public companies to further “political agendas” that many of their clients disagree with.

“I don’t believe a small number of asset managers should have such huge influence on how companies are run,” Ramaswamy, based in Columbus, Ohio, said in an interview. He wrote a book last year called “Woke Inc.”

Ramaswamy said he spent two years traveling across the US and spoke with “everyday Americans” who said they want companies, including Walt Disney Co., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Twitter Inc., to deliver “excellent products and services,” and not support “divisive political issues that fragment them as both customers and shareholders of these companies.”

Disney has come under fire from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis after the theme-park operator expressed opposition to a state bill designed to restrict discussion of sexual orientation in schools. Exxon is being pressured by environmentally-conscious investors to reduce its role in climate change.

Thiel, a powerful conservative billionaire, has become increasingly active in politics as a backer of candidates aligned with Trump. He is supporting candidates ahead of November’s midterm elections and donated millions of dollars to the successful campaign of “Hillbilly Elegy”author JD Vance in Ohio’s Republican primary race for Senate. Thiel has lambasted ESG for being a “hate factory.”

Stakeholder capitalism encourages corporations to consider its impacts on society by including the interests of customers, employees and communities in addition to shareholders. The Business Roundtable, a group of the largest U.S. corporations, said in a landmark statement three years ago that it was redefining the purpose of companies to promote an economy that serves “all Americans.”

BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Officer Larry Fink has said companies will be left behind if they don’t embrace sustainable business practices. He has recently hit back at critics who say that considering environmental impact in investing decisions is a politically motivated fad.

Investor resolutions that pressure corporations to act on social and environmental issues attracted unprecedented support during last year’s shareholder meetings as BlackRock and other large money managers threw their heft behind proposals focused on climate change and racial disparities.

Last year, Ackman extolled the virtues of sustainable investing, telling his investors that capitalism is likely the most powerful force for good in addressing society’s ills. The billionaire said successful businesses operating ethically and sustainably can create high-paying jobs, produce large long-term profits for investors and provide goods and services that materially increase their customers’ quality of life.

Pershing also said it was committed to identifying opportunities for the firm to engage with communities to promote equity, social justice and inclusion.

“We believe that good ESG practices are fundamentally aligned with running a successful business,” Ackman wrote in a March 2021 letter to investors in Pershing Square Holdings Ltd.

Strive’s other backers include Joe Lonsdale, co-founder of Palantir Technologies Inc., and Nicholas Green, who runs Thrive Market, a natural and organic goods seller that’s also registered as a company that seeks to balance profit and the purpose. Such B-Corp companies make legal commitments to be accountable to all stakeholders.

(Adds Thiel’s support of Republican candidates in sixth paragraph)

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