Icahn is the financial world's jack-of-all-trades: a hedge fund investor, a private equity investor, a corporate raider, and, his favorite guise of late, an "activist investor"—a thorn in the side of corporate management teams from New York to Korea.
The Queens native originally considered becoming a doctor and attended medical school for a spell after earning a degree in philosophy from Princeton. Medicine, it turned out, wasn't for him, and Icahn headed to Wall Street, starting as a stockbroker at Dreyfus & Co. before founding his own firm half a dozen years later. In the 1980s, Icahn became one of a new generation of corporate raiders when he undertook a hostile takeover of TWA Airlines, smashing a flight attendants' strike and slashing salary costs. Staging raids on B.F. Goodrich, American Can, Uniroyal, U.S. Steel and General Motors, Icahn generated plenty of controversy, particularly through the tactic of "greenmail"—which he partly invented—in which companies buy back stock from their would-be raiders at a substantial premium. Although his approach has always offended—critics have long held that men like Icahn are out for a quick profit, not interested in the long-term interests of the company—in the wake of corporate malfeasance at companies like Enron and Worldcom, Icahn gets more respect for his aggressive campaigns to force companies in which he accumulates a minority stake to restructure their operations and management.
Until recently, Icahn headed up several companies, including the hedge fund Icahn Partners and American Real Estate Partners, a publicly traded private-equity firm that had made a series of real estate and casino investments in Las Vegas in recent years. In 2007, Icahn rolled them up under the banner Icahn Enterprises and sold off his gaming assets, but the paper shuffling hasn't changed Icahn's basic M.O. much, and the mention of his name continues to strike terror into the heart of any CEO unfortunate enough to have a flabby balance sheet lying on his desk.
In recent years, Icahn's led well-publicized battles against Blockbuster, ImClone and Time Warner: In 2006, he championed a proposal to break up the media giant into four separate companies. (Despite some high-profile help from banker Bruce Wasserstein, Icahn ultimately failed to convince shareholders that the parts were worth more individually than as divisions of Time Warner.) Motorola has also been a focus of Icahn's attention in recent years. He led a public effort to force out CEO Ed Zander (who eventually stepped down), and battled for more than a year before Motorola caved in April 2008 and granted Icahn two seats on the board.
Most recently, Icahn trained his attention on Yahoo! After accumulating a major stake in the company and lining up a handful of high-profile supporters (including T. Boone Pickens and Dan Loeb), he pushed it to reconsider an acquisition offer by Microsoft and lobbied to have a new management team installed.
Icahn is worth some $12 billion, according to Forbes, which makes him the 20th richest man in America.
On the job
Not surprisingly, Icahn has a rep for being an extraordinarily tough boss and expects his employees to be on call 24/7. (They often receive phone calls from him in the middle of the night.) His senior team includes his general counsel, Marc Weitzen, and his chief dealmakers, Keith Meister and Vince Intrieri. Other people on speed dial include Joe Perella—he advised Icahn on several recent deals, including his bid for Reckson Associates Realty—as well as Steve Cohen, who followed along with Icahn in his Time Warner campaign.
The "contrarian to end all contrarians" doesn't keep the same schedule as most billionaire financiers. Icahn reportedly stays up into the wee hours of the morning and wakes up late, working from home in the morning before arriving at his office on the 47th floor of the General Motors building in the early afternoon. When he's in the city, he often breaks up his evening with a working dinner at Il Tinello on West 56th Street. He's such a regular, in fact, that the menu features "Pasta alla Icahn," which is farfalle with a sauce of tomato, onion, and bacon.
The two biggest recipients of Icahn's largesse include Princeton, his alma mater, and Mount Sinai. In 2004, Icahn donated $25 million to the hospital to construct a research facility on Madison Avenue that has since been named The Icahn Medical Institute.
Icahn is married to his second wife, Gail Golden, his former office manager. Gail currently runs Gutsy Women Travel, an agency that specializes in vacations for women (presumably because their husbands are too busy racking up billions to take time off). Icahn has a daughter named Michelle and a son named Brett, who works with him at his fund and sits on the board of several companies Carl controls.
The Icahns live in a duplex apartment in the Museum Tower in Midtown, but spend a good deal of their time at their Lily Pond Lane estate in East Hampton, where in addition to a lawn described by one visitor as the "size of a football field," Icahn has some two dozen phones so he can conduct business in every room in the house. Family vacations take place aboard the Starfire, a 180-foot yacht staffed by a crew of 12 and equipped with satellite phones so Icahn is never out of reach.
Icahn has always said he refuses to use email. Blogging, however, is another matter. In early 2008, he said he planned to use IcahnReport.com to address issues of "corporate governance."