Carl C. Icahn Biography

Investor(1936–)
Entrepreneur Carl C. Icahn made his fortune as one of Wall Street's notorious 'corporate raiders' of the 1980s.

Synopsis

Born in New York City in 1936, Carl C. Icahn began his financial career in 1961. Starting with his proxy battle at Tappan in the late 1970s, he forged a reputation as one of Wall Street's leading "corporate raiders" during the following decade. Icahn became very wealthy through his substantial stakes in corporations like RJR Nabisco, Texaco, Phillips Petroleum and Viacom, overcoming missteps with TWA and Time Warner to remain a highly influential investor.

Early Years and Career

Carl Celian Icahn was born on February 16, 1936, in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Queens. The only child of Bella, a public-school teacher, and Michael, a cantor at a local synagogue, Icahn grew up without much money. He learned to fend for himself in the tough environment of Far Rockaway High School, where he garnered strong enough grades to be accepted to Princeton University.  

After earning his B.A. in philosophy from Princeton in 1957, Icahn heeded his mother's wishes and enrolled at New York University School of Medicine. Never fully invested in the process, he dropped out during his third year and went into the Army Reserves. 

In 1961, Icahn began his career on Wall Street as a broker at Dreyfus & Co. In 1968, with financial assistance from an uncle, he obtained a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and launched Icahn & Co., a securities firm devoted to arbitrage and options trading.  

Wall Street Titan

In the late 1970s, Icahn shifted gears and began acquiring significant portions of stock in Tappan, a family-owned appliance company. Upon becoming the majority shareholder, he initiated a proxy fight that led to the company being sold to Electrolux and a doubling of the stock prices. 

As one of the notorious "corporate raiders" of the 1980s, Icahn enriched himself and his partners by his takeovers, and at the same time (so his defenders claimed), making money for ordinary stockholders. He also engaged in what was called "greenmail": threatening to take over corporations such as Marshall Field and Phillips Petroleum, he would sell his stocks at the end and walk off with a sizeable profit. His success was such that he provided much of the inspiration for the famed Gordon Gekko character of the 1987 movie Wall Street

Icahn attempted to operate some of the companies he acquired. After assuming control of American Car & Foundry Company in 1984, he slashed overhead and liquidated assets, turning a sizable profit after three years. However, a higher-profile effort to run Trans World Airlines (TWA) after its purchase in 1985 went belly-up. Icahn took the company private and invested a huge sum of his own money, but wound up resigning his position as chairman after TWA filed for bankruptcy in 1992. 

Having avoided the scandals that brought down fellow financial high rollers like Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken, Icahn continued his brand of "activist investing" into the 1990s and beyond. He launched bids to take over RJR Nabisco, losing out to Philip Morris but claiming a profit of more than $600 million in the process. 

After opening a hedge fund in 2004, Icahn stumbled in his effort to break up Time Warner and push its CEO, Richard Parsons, out the door. His attempts to take control of Blockbuster also proved fruitless with the decline of the video-rental market. However, he showed he could still flex his muscle by influencing sales at companies like Mylan Laboratories and Kerr-McGee. 

Icahn in 2007 became CEO of Icahn Capital LP, a subsidiary of Icahn Enterprises, and in 2011 he closed his hedge fund to outside investors. Refusing to ease out of the game even as he neared his 80th birthday, he made news in 2012 with the announcement of his acquisition of a significant stake in Netflix.   

The investor has since remained in the headlines with his attempts to influence transactions at eBay and Apple, a public feud with Pershing Square Capital Management CEO Bill Ackman and his support of 2016 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. With his majority holdings in companies like XO Communications, Tropicana Entertainment and CVR Energy, he ranked No. 43 on the Forbes list of billionaires in 2016. 

Philanthropy and Personal 

Despite his reputation as a cutthroat investor and negotiator, Icahn has devoted significant resources to the fields of education and medicine, with a particular interest in genomics. He donated $200 million to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in 2012, and launched the Icahn Scholars Program to attract the world's brightest physician-scientists. Additionally, he has established a series of charter schools and homeless shelters in the Bronx, New York. 

Icahn fathered two children with his first wife, Liba Trejbal. After their separation in the early 1990s, he married his longtime assistant, Gail Golden. Icahn's son, Brett, has since gone into business with his father.

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