Carl Icahn is known as much for his mistakes as his successes. His process for making money is based on forcing management to do the right thing. He cannot, however, control the forces of the fates and furies, the trends which wreck businesses or old decisions which can come back to haunt the living.
Most notable among Icahn’s recent errors are Blockbuster (BBI), a movie rental chain which is part of the Stone Age of media, and Motorola (MOT), where the handset operation died so quickly that it did not even make it to the door of an emergency room.
Now, Icahn’s latest gambit, a play to get Yahoo! (YHOO) to sell-out to Microsoft (MSFT) for $33, may have gone off track. Microsoft is no longer interested. So says Steve Ballmer, the Genghis Khan of the software world.
Yesterday, Ballmer told reporters he did not want Yahoo!. He only wants a deal to put his search engine business together with theirs. Reuters writes "We are not bidding to buy Yahoo," Ballmer said
Many will say that Ballmer’s comments are simply a negotiating tactic to talk the price down. He will try to get Yahoo! For something less than the $33 he offered. But, Microsoft maintains the arrogance which has been its hallmark for years, and Ballmer may believe that his engineers and marketing machine will allow him to mount and assault on search market leader Google without any outside help.
Icahn’s approach to investing is based on the logic that all investors, boards, and managements will eventually come around to the program which will make the most money, even if he has to force the issue.
But, his sense of where the pay-off is may not mesh with the motivations of the odd and sometimes perverse thinking of his prey. Microsoft is a predator which has lost its appetite and that may leave Icahn owning a company that no one wants.
Douglas A. McIntyre