Icahn: Too many companies run by 'morons'

Carl Icahn tackles activism criticism

Carl Icahn defended the role of activist investors like him, saying that too many companies are being run by "morons" who need oversight.

"I do love this country. I'm not so sure I love a lot of the people, but I love the country. From my point of view, we're going to lose this because...the problem you have is the wrong side is running these companies," he said at the Delivering Alpha conference presented by CNBC and Institutional Investor.

"We're going to have morons running the companies soon, and we're almost there. It's amazing how bad these companies are and the boards are when we get in them,"

One of his most highly publicized battles involved Herbalife. He and fellow activist Bill Ackman squared off in an unforgettable debate on CNBC in January 2013, and the two were reunited on the stage at the conference. It was a surprise appearance by Ackman, head of Persing Square Capital who has taken an aggressive short position against the company in which Icahn has a sizable stake.

Icahn extended his criticism of top executives to Wall Street, which he blamed for the financial crisis and where he said some CEOs should have been replaced.

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"Who got us into it? Wall Street got us into it. Let's not pull punches," said Icahn, head of Icahn Enterprises.

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Responding to criticism that activists are too focused on short-term gains rather than the ultimate good of companies, Icahn said there are too many lazy CEOs who need a wake-up call.

He added that most of the companies where he invests are long-term positions for him.

David A. Grogan | CNBC

"The only you can get these guys off the golf course is when I file a 13-D," he said, referring to the regulatory filing in which an investor must declare a stake of greater than 5 percent in a company.

"What a board should do is not tell the CEO what to do. They should leave him alone, really leave him alone," Icahn added. "What they should say is if you're not producing...if you're not doing as well as your peer group, get off the golf course and get to work and stop worrying about what plane you have."

Icahn held court as the conference wound down for the day, dropping names of various companies he's helped along the way.

As he did during his 2013 appearance, he peppered his remarks with one-liners that nonetheless had a sharp edge gained through years of taking aim at struggling outfits like Family Dollar.

"It has good long-term potential but not with the management you have or the board that you have," he said. "Some people don't like (his criticism of management). I feel sad about it."

On economic issues, Icahn said he's worried about Federal Reserve policies.

While commending former Fed chair Ben Bernanke for "saving this country," he said the central bank has overdone its historically accoommodative monetary policies.

"You've got to worry about the excessive printing of money," he said.