Friday, February 17, 2006

Corporate Raider or Sack of Crap?

There are some people who can be redeemed and there are others who can't. In the latter category I put Two Guys from Quantico Inagural Sack of Crap Lifetime Achievement Award winner Carl Icahn.
Why is he so bad? A lot of people haven't ever heard of him. He has been obscure outside business circles, not really making any waves most of the time. Most of his unredeemable qualities come when he decides to take an investment in a company. Because of the fortune he has amassed throughout his business career, he feels like he should have a much more powerful say than he actually deserves. His modus operandi is to buy pieces of companies, scream about how they are undervalued, and then follow that up with his plan to "unlock" value. This plan always consists of breaking up the company. Is this the best thing for shareholders? Not usually. Breakups, like mergers, are hard to do. In the end all that happens is lots of cash for the investment bankers who finance the deal. Is this the best thing for the company? Not at all. They end up weaker than they started out and they have a loudmouth either on the board or running the company.
Icahn was the driving force behind making Howard Hughes' old airline, TWA, impotent. He bought control of the company in the mid 80s then proceeded to sell anything of value out from under it. This included airplanes, routes, and operations centers. This "unlocked" the value for Icahn who got rich, then drove the company into bankruptcy, losing control of it in the process. They proceeded to attempt a revitalization only to get smacked down under Icahn's thumb again in the late 90s and eventually get sold off to American Airlines as a mere shell of its former self.
What put him in the running for this lifetime achievement award is his current attempted breakup of Time Warner. He wants it broken into four pieces, each with less power but, in theory, more value; allowing him to cash out and leaving a broken Time, Inc, Warner Bros, AOL, and Misc. Company in his wake. While it's important to listen to investors, especially powerful ones like Icahn and fellow company killer Kirk Kerkorkian, in the end the responsibility of the executives should be to the company and to its employees, not to loudmouth billionaires who use these companies as expensive Legos that they can put together and dismantle at will.
Fortunately Time Warner seems to have withstood Icahn for now. For their sake and for everybody else's, let's hope he sells soon. At the very least, he's come out of this with a lovely award, the Two Guys from Quantico Sack of Crap Lifetime Achievement Award. Congratulations Carl, you've won it!

Tomorrow: Lindsay Jacobellis and her boneheaded showboating!

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