Icahn rips into Dell board...and slams Ackman, too
Activist investor Carl Icahn teed off Wednesday on the board of Dell, a day before the computer maker's board is set to vote on an offer by its founder to take the company private.
Speaking at the Delivering Alpha conference presented by CNBC and Institutional Investor, the fiery billionaire said he still wants to own the company despite all the controversy the battle has caused and how poorly managed Dell is.
"Most of these boards are completely dysfunctional, but I've never seen one as bad as this," Icahn said. "They actually go around and scare their own shareholders."
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That board is scheduled to vote Thursday on a $24.4 billion bid from owner Michael Dell, whose attempt at a takeover has been criticized by Icahn for undervaluing the company even though the price per share equates to above the current level.
Icahn and his partner Southeastern Asset Management announced their latest alternative offer last week that would buy back up to 1.1 billion shares at $14 apiece, with a Dell warrant offered for every four shares held.
Icahn has said he wants the vote to go ahead Thursday.
As things stand, the board's decision is considered a tossup even though three shareholder advisory firms all recommended the Dell offer.
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Icahn said he believes the dispute is headed for a proxy fight.
"I believe this will go to a proxy fight and I believe I can win," he said. "Dell has done a really poor job (but) the board has done an awful job. You know I don't blame Dell as much as I do the board."
"They're giving the damn thing away," he added. "If you are an institution, why would you want this guy still running the company?"
"I don't dislike Dell," he said later. "He's a nice guy."
While expounding on his Dell position, Icahn entertained the crowd with a variety of one-liners.
He said his investing life is complicated by his wife "who watches me like a hawk" and checks his returns daily to ensure he's making money.
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What he does for a living, he joked, is comparable to medieval tyrants hanging peasants' children to "teach them discipline."
"It's a vicious cycle," he said. "The whole system is dysfunctional, that's why I make so much money."
Earlier this year, Icahn slugged it out on CNBC air with fellow investor Bill Ackman, head of Pershing Square Capital, over Herbalife, which Ackman is shorting.
Icahn took a long position in the company, whose stock has soared more than 50 percent over the past five months.
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"I like Bill Ackman know," Icahn joked. "Anyone who makes me a quarter billion dollars, I like."
Lest it appeared he was softening, Icahn made clear his view on Ackman after CNBC's Scott Wapner told Icahn that Ackman didn't come to the conference because he was at a board meeting in Canada and has "a railroad to run."
"If he runs the railroad," Icahn said, "I wouldn't want to be on it."
—By CNBC's Jeff Cox. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxCNBCcom.