Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, known for his strong-arm tactics in America’s boardrooms, tried to bury the hatchet on Wednesday with a host of former rivals, including fellow hedge fund manager William Ackman.
Less than six months after he fought with Ackman live on cable television and compared the hedge fund manager to a “cry baby” in a school yard, Icahn told investors at a conference on Wednesday that he won’t say anything bad about Ackman any more because he made a wealthy man even richer.
“Anyone who has made me a quarter of a billion dollars, I am not going to say bad things about,” Icahn, whose net worth is estimated at around US$20 billion, said about Ackman.
The 77-year-old Icahn, who has been described in print as one of the inspirations for the character Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie Wall Street, was speaking on Wednesday at the CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha Conference.
Ackman, 47, who spoke at this conference last year, said he was not able to attend this year because he was travelling to a board meeting in Canada.
Icahn has famously bet on nutrition and supplements company Herbalife, while Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management has a US$1 billion short on the stock - a bet that Herbalife’s stock will fall. So far, Icahn is making money while Ackman is in the red on that bet.
Icahn similarly said he does not dislike Michael Dell, the computer entrepreneur who is trying to take Dell private, a plan that Icahn is urging shareholders to reject.
Even if he loses that battle - and Icahn said he doesn’t think he will - he said he would call Dell up and congratulate him.
“I don’t know if he’ll talk to me, but I’ll call him up.”
Icahn even seemed to have mellowed somewhat toward various unnamed chief executive officers with whom he has tangled in his long career as a corporate raider and activist investor.
“They aren’t bad guys,” Icahn said, reserving his irritation for corporate boards.
But he acknowledged that many bosses like to spend a lot of time golfing and “the only way to get them off the golf course is to tell them Mr. Icahn just got off the phone and he’s filing a 13D,” in a reference to the US Securities and Exchange Commission filing alerting regulators and the company that an investor plans to take an activist position.
While he tried to calm the waters with certain rivals, he heaped plenty of criticism on corporate boards, calling the board at Dell a “dictatorship.”
“They would have gotten away with it if I didn’t have a spare US$3.5 billion lying around,” Icahn said of the money he invested to stop the buyout offer led by Michael Dell.
Icahn said he still enjoys his work. He drew roars of laughter from the crowd as he recalled how he has changed his mind about so many rivals.
“A CEO once told me, ‘There is war and there is peace,’ Icahn said, adding, “and then he said, ‘There is war and there will be peace, again, Carl.”