An oil painting depicting Napoleon’s Battle of Friedland hangs in the office of billionaire investor Carl Icahn on Fifth Avenue in New York. Ernest Meissonier’s painting of the victory of French troops over the Russians, the decisive triumph of the Bonaparte empire. One of Wall Street’s most dreaded sharks, a man who has bankrupted and revived companies, has dozens of CEOs among his victims, and someone who has amassed a huge fortune with the art of council intrigues, thinks: Napoleon was no doubt a great strategist, but everything because of arrogance. “It won’t last forever if you don’t take care,” Icahn says in a recent documentary.
Carl Icahn: The restless billionaire – HBO’s documentary – a portrait of one of the most influential and dreaded people in the American market. The investor rejects the “corporate raider” label created by the professional media that made it famous in the 1980s. With a net worth of around $ 16 billion, Icahn prefers the term “activist investor,” someone who is willing to work on behalf of minority shareholders. His job revolves around advancing the necessary changes, no matter how painful, in the top management of companies to increase their value. This strategy, used since the 2000s, has allowed it to reach one of Forbes ’richest 50 lists (43rd). The company employs more than 20,000 people and has annual revenues of approximately $ 10 billion.
Honestly, I was earning this money because the system is so bad. Not because I’m a genius
Documentary filmmaker Bruce David Klein reveals that 86-year-old Icahn has never feared a confrontation on the board that has been a billionaire’s battlefield for decades. The starting point of its history is the attempt to acquire Tappan, a kitchen equipment company, in the late 1970s. Icahn, the son of a teacher and a synagogue cantor, was a student with an unfinished medical degree and a successful broker specializing in options trading, and developed a strategy to remove Tappan’s CEO who had just completed his acquisition of a rival. The hostile shareholder described the deal as a disaster and reassured board members that the then seven-dollar share price was below potential. The time was right when the Swedish company Electrolux bought Tappan a few months later for about $ 18 a share.
Today, at the age of 86, Icahn is far from retirement. Your days begin with hours of exhaustive press readings. Although the cameras record how he played tennis in his exclusive Hamptons mansion on the East Coast, there is always a phone next to him, with several lines when he appears sitting in the documentary. He is described by his wife, Gail Golden, as a “bulldog” who doesn’t stop until he gets what he wants. He prefers to sum up his vision in one word, with a strong Queens accent: victory. This mindset tied him to Donald Trump, during whom he worked as a billionaire special advisor under Trump’s presidency until mid-2017.
The media continues to report in detail on its recent moves. It has exited the Occidental energy company after three years of investment, generating more than $ 1 billion in profits. A few days ago, she went into a proxy fight against McDonald’s, bought 200 shares in the hamburger company, and nominated two women with sustainability expertise to the board. Icahn set out to keep the restaurant chain’s decade-long commitment to end the use of large pig farms that mistreat pregnant animals. It turns out how successful you will be in this latest venture. Over the past year, McDonald’s has risen 18%. The fast-food chain is by no means sailing in the same troubled waters as the companies that the pirate Icahn usually raids.
His life dedicated to investing has led him to many industries and companies, including Hertz, Netflix, eBay, Texaco, Uniroyal, Caesars Casinos and Tropicana, MGM Studios and Lions Gate, among many others. It was never without controversy. He was able to put his advice to others to the test in the mid-1980s when he became president of the TWA. This experience was one of the worst failures. In 1992, the airline filed for bankruptcy after the cabin crew union was the company’s main opponent.
Another episode of the failure happened at Marvel, one of today’s most acclaimed brands. Icahn fought a battle with Ronald Perelman, another Wall Street titan, who gained a corporate raiding fame after moving the fortunes of the cosmetics giant Revlon. In 1989, Perelman bought Marvel for $ 82 million, which held 70% of the market. His leadership was a disaster. The clash of egos has led to a series of austerity measures that have led to the dismissal of artists and writers, which has worsened the quality of the comics and fans have turned their backs on them. In 1996, the company owned only 25% of the market and had to file for bankruptcy by the end of the year. “The only thing Icahn achieved was a toxic trade in insults [with Perelman]”Points out journalist Dan Raviv in his book Comic Wars. A few years later, Marvel will be one of the most successful comebacks of recent decades.
Donald’s proximity to Trump has further heightened his controversy in recent years. In 2019, federal authorities launched an investigation to determine whether Icahn had received inside information following his White House advisory role (for which he had not been paid). In early 2018, the company sold its stake in crane manufacturer Manitowoc for $ 30 million. The operation took place months before the Trump government imposed new tariffs on U.S. steel imports. Icahn denied the allegations. In the documentary, the millionaire explains in front of the camera what many consider a gamble in the game of capitalism. “Honestly, I was earning this money because the system is so bad. Not because I’m a genius. ”