Ron Baron and Bill Ackman Are Performance Leaders

John Dorfman

April 29, 2024 (Maple Hill Syndicate) – The website tracks the stock picks and performance of a few dozen famous investors. In the past five years, half a dozen of them had annual returns exceeding 17%.

Ron Baron leads the parade. His Baron Partners Fund had a 31.2% annual return.

In today’s column, we’ll take a peek inside the portfolios of Baron and the other five investors who have had the hottest hands the past five years. One caution: Investment success can appear or vanish in a flash.

My mentor David Dreman, for many years a successful mutual-fund manager, once said to me, “John, I’m so tired of being a genius one year and an idiot the next – and with the very same stocks.”

Ron Baron

Ron Baron is the founder of Baron Capital Management in New York City. His firm manages about 19 mutual funds, with assets totaling about $37 billion.

As of December 31, Baron’s biggest holding by far was Tesla Inc. (TSLA), Elon Musk’s electric-car company. Since that date, the stock has slid 32%. I don’t know if Baron has trimmed his holdings or added to them. But he tends to hold stocks for the long haul.

Investors are deserting Tesla stock in droves because the company’s sales and earnings – which had been on a steady upward course – declined in the March quarter. The stock peaked at $409.97 in November 2021. It now (as of April 26) sells for about $168.

I wouldn’t count Elon Musk out, but Tesla stock is still too expensive for me at 43 times earnings.

Among Baron’s other holdings were Gartner Inc. (IT), a technology consultant; Co-Star Group Inc. (CSGP) a real-estate information firm, and Arch Capital Group ltd. (ACGL), a Bermuda-based insurance and reinsurance firm.

Bill Ackman

The founder of Pershing Square Capital Management, Bill Ackman is an activist hedge-fund manager. He usually holds relatively few positions, and often presses for strategic changes at the companies in which he invests. gives his five-year return as 20.4% per year.

As of December 31, his biggest holding was Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (CMG). He bought it in 2016 when the stock was depressed by a food poisoning (E-coli) problem affecting the restaurant chain. Buying on bad news takes guts, but is often a path to profits.

Other major holdings for Ackman were Restaurant Brands International Inc. (QSR), Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. (HLT) and Howard Hughes Holdings Inc. (HHH).

Bruce Berkowitz

The managing member of the Fairholme Fund, Bruce Berkowitz can boast a 19.3% annual return over the past five years.

His biggest holding is St. Joe Co., the largest land owner in Florida, which he has held for about 15 years. He is the company’s largest stockholder and a member of its board of directors.

St. Joe owns about 171,000 acres in Florida (mostly the Northwest coast), and has been gradually building hotels and residential developments on some of its acreage. It also has some medical properties, including Sacred Heart Hospital in Santa Rosa Beach.

Elfun Trusts

I’ll skip over Elfun Trusts fairly quickly, because it is a fund in which only General Electric employees and trustees can invest. The five-year return, per, is 17.8% a year. The largest holdings are Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Apple Inc. (AAPL), Inc. (AMZN) and Nvidia Corp. (NVDA).

Harbor Capital

Spiros Segalas ran the Harbor Capital Appreciation Fund (HACAX) for 33 years until his death in early 2023. Now it’s run by a team at Jennison Associates. The annual return has averaged 17.5% over the past five years.

Its four biggest holdings are precisely the same as those at Elfun Trusts (though not in the same order). Some other holdings include Eli Lilly and Co. (LLY), Visa Inc. (V), Broadcom Inc. (AVGO) and MasterCard Inc. (MA).

David Rolfe

David Rolfe is the longtime portfolio manager at Wedgewood Partners, which posted a 17.3% annual return over the past five years. He runs a concentrated portfolio, and looks for companies with high profitability and a product or service that is “practically irreplaceable.”

As of December, his top positions were PayPal Holdings Inc. (PYPL), Edwards Lifesciences Corp. (EW) and Visa Inc. (V), followed by Alphabet Inc. (GOOG) and Texas Pacific Land Corp. (TPL).

Should you buy the stocks these celebrated investors hold? Not necessarily. Today’s resident of the investment penthouse may be tomorrow’s occupant of the investment outhouse.

Still, when a manager compiles an outstanding record over a meaningful period, his or her investment choices deserve research and consideration.

Disclosure: I own Alphabet and Apple personally and for clients. Another manager at my firm owns Microsoft and Nvidia; and a third has a short position in Tesla (betting on a decline). One of my clients owns Eli Lilly.

John Dorfman is chairman of Dorfman Value Investments in Boston. His firm of clients may own or trade securities discussed in this column. He can be reached at

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