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Bill Ackman and His Martyr Strategy

"We have lost the (100 Years') war," cried out an ENGLISH soldier at the stake where France's Joan of Arc was going up in flames, "for we have burned a saint."

Now Bill Ackman, who recently lost his compaign to "reform" Target's board, is no saint. But he has been "burned" by the negative vote. And has shrewdly decided to cast himself as a martyr, with an impassioned annual meeting speech invoking both John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, heroes of the 1960s.

"The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what we did here," said President Abraham Lincoln, disingenuously, at Gettysburg. In fact, it's usually the opposite; the memory of deeds is dimmed with the passage of time, while recollections of words are amplified.

Bill Ackman's corporate structure proposals were debatable. They will be forgotten because they were not put into practice, meaning no one will ever get to see whether they were right or wrong.

On the other hand, Bill Ackman's corporate GOVERNANCE proposals will be "long remembered." That's because they remain missing from the landscape, a reminder of what might have been. Like a shared board. Or a "universal" ballet with the names of both management's and dissidents' choices.

It took Joan of Arc CENTURIES to be fully rehabilitated. But when she finally was, it was as a saint. It may take decades for Ackman to be vindicated.  But he will stand tall long after Target Corporation is forgotten.

Disclosure: still long, but planning to exit TGT shares.