My Favorite April Fool's Email of the Day

It's geeky, but I'm a book person. And this email from Shelf Awareness cracked me up.

from Shelf Awareness, April 1, 2008:

Five Questions: The Country's No. 1 Bookseller

Shelf Awareness recently sat down to speak with the most powerful man in American bookselling, who despite his influence and power is little known personally in the book business. In fact, initially he did not even wish to speak with us, citing a long-held disinclination to state his views and plans publicly.

In his tasteful, elegant Manhattan offices, he spoke deliberately and carefully as an aide unobtrusively took notes. He warmed at several points, especially when talking about his personal goals and what he calls misperceptions about himself prevalent in the industry. He was dressed impeccably and at times was even charming.

No, we didn't speak with Barnes & Noble chairman Len Riggio. Instead our partner in conversation was Bill Ackman, founder and managing partner of Pershing Square Capital Management, which is the largest shareholder of Borders and second-largest, next to Riggio himself, at B&N.

Busy times, yes?

First, let me say I'm delighted by the ABA purchase of Borders. As part of the agreement, we retain a stake in the newly formed entity, which will allow us to continue to nudge the powers that be in the right direction for shareholder value.

As for B&N, we have amicable, constructive relations with the management of the company. We will be working together to maximize shareholder value.

According to news reports, half of your hedge fund assets are invested in McDonald's stock, and in the past several years you owned a sizable stake in Wendy's. You seem to dig into certain businesses, as it were.

Indeed, I like fast food--in more ways than one. In the same way, I love books, especially quickly digestible ones--business titles and anything by Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz. Moreover, I value book value, which by definition means I value the value of books. Also I like companies' books, particularly when they carry many underutilized assets. I read companies' books every day.

Pershing Square Capital Management represents exactly what book retailing needs. I'm humbled and honored to provide this service.

Tell me about your investment track record. What can the book industry expect?

At Wendy's, we successfully encouraged management to spin off the Tim Horton subsidiary and at McDonald's we've nudged management to franchise more and own fewer stores. At all the companies we invest in, we have helped management rein in costs, buy back stock when it's low priced and spin off operations that aren't part of the core business.

What plans do you have for B&N?

Several things come to mind. We've noted that B&N and its cafes might appeal to a broader audience were they to serve fare that was more popular than, for example, panini and lattes. In that spirit, we have facilitated initial discussions between McDonald's and B&N for the bookseller to begin converting cafes to McDonald's.

We've also noted areas where B&N could be more profitably run. For example, many of the booksellers make several dollars an hour more than minimum wage, creating an opportunity for improving shareholder values. In addition, a policy of selling only books that sell would help B&N's bottom line.

How is Pershing faring in the current credit crunch?

As you saw from the Borders announcement several weeks ago, very nicely indeed. For the right interest, we're happy to lend any amount to the companies we own. And we're not worried about confidence. We have experience with that--the run on Gotham Partners, Pershing's predecessor, in 2002, for example. All "problems" merely represent more opportunities to increase shareholder value. We make money coming and going, my friend.


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