Report: Activist investor Ackman pushing for Zoetis board positions

William Ackman

Ever since Pershing Square's William Ackman snapped up $1.5 billion worth of Zoetis ($ZTS) shares in November, the animal health company has been doing everything it can to stave off a takeover attempt. Ackman, after all, is famous for pressuring companies to put themselves up for sale--most recently trying to push Allergan ($AGN) into a merger with Valeant ($VRX).

Now Ackman is trying to win seats for Pershing Square on Zoetis' board of directors, according to anonymous sources quoted by Reuters. Ackman has been holding secret meetings leading up to the Feb. 12 deadline for board nominations, and Pershing Square could get as many as two seats, the sources said.

Zoetis and Pershing Square declined to comment, but two sources told Reuters that with the board positions, Ackman could very well campaign for a sale of the company. The investor has been quite vocal about Zoetis' lack of control over its costs, reportedly speaking about the matter at a private session for investors held before the company's first Investor Day last November.

Investors have been buzzing for weeks that Valeant would be an obvious suitor for Zoetis. But Valeant CEO J. Michael Pearson told the Financial Times last week that he's not interested. He said he's intrigued by opportunities in animal health but would rather invest in a company that's focused entirely on companion animals, which Zoetis is not.

Pershing Square partner William Doyle will likely be one of the new Zoetis board members, Reuters reports. Doyle, who has a science background, could offer insight into which suitors would make the most sense for Zoetis.

Ackman hasn't always succeeded in his campaigns to sell off companies. Allergan resisted Valeant's overtures and instead sold itself to Actavis ($ACT). That said, Pershing Square didn't have any board seats at Allergan, despite being its largest shareholder.

Here's the Reuters story