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Struggling hedge fund manager Bill Ackman loses ADP board seat vote—CEO calls it 'ass-whipping'

  • Pershing Square's Bill Ackman loses a bid to put three nominees on ADP's board.
  • The nominees received less than 20 percent of the votes, with big ADP shareholders Vanguard and State Street voting for ADP's nominees.
  • ADP President and CEO Carlos Rodriguez tells CNBC he hopes Ackman will "move on."

Activist investor Bill Ackman lost his bid Tuesday for ADP board seats after a high-profile proxy fight with the giant payroll processor.

Ackman's nominees received less than 20 percent of votes from shares outstanding and less than 25 percent of shares voted at the meeting. ADP announced its shareholders voted to re-elect all 10 of its directors, based on a preliminary vote count.

"This was an ass-whipping," ADP President and CEO Carlos Rodriguez told Reuters after the announcement.

Ackman, who heads the Pershing Square hedge fund, had nominated three directors, including himself. Two of the largest shareholders, Vanguard and State Street, voted for ADP's nominees, while BlackRock voted for Ackman.

Ackman disputed the exact vote results, and said on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" that he should have actually received 31 percent or 45 percent of the vote if votes were not withheld and were compared differently. "I think that's a very strong vote of confidence from shareholders for our ideas," he said.

Shares of ADP, which have a market value of $49 billion, recovered opening losses and were trading about 0.4 percent higher late Tuesday morning. ADP raised its quarterly dividend rate on Tuesday to 63 cents a share from 57 cents a share. The stock is up about 8 percent for the year.

"We would hope that this is a message not just to Bill Ackman but to all activists that ADP is I think on a strong foundation and on the right path," Rodriguez said on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."

"This country has a long tradition in economics and policy of respecting a vote," Rodriguez said, "and I hope that Bill and everyone else would do that in this case and move on and let us move on with our business."

Bill Ackman, founder and CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Bill Ackman, founder and CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management.

Activist hedge funds are launching more campaigns against larger companies this year, but settlements dropped 53 percent in the first half of this year, according to ActivistMonitor, a division of research firm Acuris. In recent high-profile case, P&G said in October that its shareholders rejected a bid from Trian Partners' Nelson Peltz for a seat on the company's board. Peltz has not conceded the vote. P&G is the largest company in history to face a proxy fight.

Rodriguez and Ackman have been engaged in a heated war of words over the last few months since the latter revealed his stake in August. Ackman has said ADP is "very inefficient" and suggested Rodriguez is not the right person to lead the company. Rodriguez has compared the activist investor's efforts to that of a "spoiled brat" who "doesn't know what he's talking about."

"We didn't learn a lot of new things as a result of Bill's presentation and also his ongoing comments, but there's really no dispute about the company's path and what it needs to do," Rodriguez said. In response to a question, he added that he didn't think Ackman's sometimes fierce approach made a difference.

Omega Advisors Chairman and CEO Leon Cooperman, who served on ADP's board for 20 years through 2012, told Ackman his activist campaign was not "intelligent." ADP has "quality management that has done a great job over many years for the shareholders," Cooperman said in August.

Ackman's Pershing Square Capital Management has a nearly 2 percent stake in ADP common shares, according to FactSet. Including derivatives, Ackman has an 8.3 percent stake. The hedge fund manager told CNBC on Monday that he would still keep a large position in the stock even if he lost the vote.

Pershing Square was down 3.3 percent for the year as of Oct. 31, according to its website. The S&P 500 has risen about 15 percent this year.

— With reporting by CNBC's Leslie Picker.