Carl Icahn’s all-time best (worst) verbal jabs
FORTUNE — On Friday, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman’s crusade against Herbalife finally produced a dividend: CNBC’s most entertaining half hour in months (years?) (ever?). The investor Carl Icahn called in to duke it out with Ackman over Herbalife, slinging the type of put downs you might expect to hear on an elementary school playground.
Like this one: “I wouldn’t invest with you if you were the last guy on earth,” said Icahn. And this one: “He’s the quintessential example that on Wall Street if you want a friend, get a dog.” Yes, but what does that have to do with Herbalife, or even Ackman? And who didn’t know Wall Street wasn’t all lovey-dovey? Is it supposed to be?
The big point here is that we shouldn’t be relying on hedge funds to do our police work. When Ackman called out the multi-level marketing health supplements company as a pyramid scheme, it almost seemed like he was doing pro-bono work for the Securities and Exchange Commission. And Ackman nearly presented it as such.
In a post-Enron and post-Lehman Brothers world that might seem acceptable. But it’s really not. Now that Icahn and others have come to Herbalife’s defense, Ackman’s position seems less altruistic, and more like a typical trade. And now a chance to settle an old feud. Because the SEC probably wants to avoid becoming the hedge fund world’s referee, and it should, it’s now less likely the SEC would bring charges against Herbalife (HLF), than if it had started the investigation on its own.
So Ackman in a way makes it harder to for the SEC to do its job, rather than the other way around. And if the SEC ends up eventually not bringing charges, does that mean Herbalife is not a pyramid scheme? It’s not clear. But it will certainly add more legitimacy to the business.
Either way, the event brought welcome additions to the collection of classic Icahnisms. Here’s are some zingers and self-righteous declarations that the corporate raider has dished out over the years:
1) Comparing the acts of Hitler and Stalin to the fact that Texaco’s CEO didn’t want to split off a valuable Canadian subsidiary, or increase it’s dividend in 1988: “A lot of people die fighting tyranny. The least I can do is vote against it.”
2) Talking about fellow corporate raider Ron Perelman during the fight over comic book creator Marvel in 1998: “He was like a plumber you loan money to get him started in business; then he comes in, wrecks your house, then tells you he wants the house for nothing.”
3) On Time Warner (TWX) in 2006: “A great company in the media business needs visionary leaders, not a conglomerate structure headquartered in Columbus Circle that second guesses.” (Full disclosure: Fortune is owned by Time Warner, and is still located in the company’s Rockefeller Center offices.)
4) Highlighting the board and CEO of Yahoo (YHOO) as an example of the main reason why the U.S. economy is broken in 2008: “I have long been cynical about the effectiveness of many of the boards and CEOs in this country and as a result the inability of our companies to compete . . . yet even I am amazed [by] Jerry Yang and the Yahoo board . . . .”
5) On Ackman: “I appreciate, Bill, that you called me a great investor. I thank you for that. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for you.”