Following a stint in the US army, he commenced his career as a stockbroker in 1961. He founded the securities firm ‘Icahn & Co.’ in 1968. The company dealt with option-trading and risk arbitrage. He took a loan of US$ 400,000 from an uncle to buy a place for it on the ‘New York Stock Exchange.’
He started acquiring substantial shares of individual companies in 1978, thereby obtaining controlling positions.
He went for a hostile takeover of a major American airline ‘TWA’ in 1985, and became its chairman, thereby earning the reputation of a "corporate raider." He resorted to "asset stripping," or selling the assets, of ‘TWA’ to repay the loan he took to buy the company.
He took ‘TWA’ private in 1988 and earned US$ 469 million as personal profit, while ‘TWA’ was left with a debt of US$ 540 million. He sold the London routes of ‘TWA’ to ‘American Airlines’ for US$ 445 million, in 1991. He then came up with ‘lowestfares.com’ to sell tickets of ‘TWA.’
Meanwhile, in late 1986, while the American integrated steel-producer ‘U.S. Steel’ faced work stoppage, Icahn initiated a US$ 7 billion hostile takeover of an 89% stake in the company. He went for separate negotiations with the management and the union. He also began proxy battles with the management and shareholders. However, on January 8, 1987, he stopped his efforts to purchase the company.
The American conglomerate ‘Icahn Enterprises,’ founded by him, was incorporated on February 17, 1987. The company invested in diverse industries such as energy, auto parts, casinos, metals, real estate, rail cars, home fashion, and food packaging. It was controlled by Icahn, which owned an 89.8% stake in it. It presently owns companies such as ‘Pep Boys,’ ‘Trump Entertainment Resorts,’ ‘American Railcar Industries,’ ‘Federal-Mogul,’ and ‘Viskase.’
He bought a substantial portion of ‘King Pharmaceuticals’ stocks in 2004, after a deal was made in July that year for ‘Mylan Laboratories’ to acquire ‘King Pharmaceuticals’ for US$ 4 billion. He remained critical of the merger and threatened a proxy fight, stating that Mylan was overpaying for the deal. The deal was called off the following year.
In 2005, ‘XO Holding’ intended to sell its wired part to Icahn, its majority shareholder (a 60% stake) and chairman, for US$ 700 million. However, ‘R2’ and other minority shareholders marred this attempt through the ‘Delaware Court’ in 2008.
The years that followed saw him going for several investments, takeovers, and takeover attempts. Although he acquired around 33.5 million shares of ‘Motorola,’ he was denied a seat on its board of directors in May 2007.
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He had acquired 8.5% of the total stakes of ‘BEA Systems’ by September 2007, and increased it to 13% before ‘Oracle Corporation’ announced its decision to purchase ‘BEA Systems’ on October 12, 2007. Oracle signed a definite agreement of US$ 8.5 billion, for the purchase, on January 16, 2008. It is believed that Icahn played an instrumental role in it.
In 2007, he also increased his stake in ‘Biogen’ and invested US$ 50 million in ‘Motricity.’ He and his affiliates also held major stakes in ‘Philip Services,’ ‘American Railcar Industries,’ ‘ACF Industries,’ and ‘Icahn Enterprises.’
He acquired a substantial amount of ‘Yahoo!’ shares in May 2008, and in no time, warned of initiating a proxy fight to remove its board of directors due to their non-acceptance of the takeover bid by ‘Microsoft.’ He initiated an agreement to increase the number of board members of the company to 11, encompassing him and two members of his selection. He resigned from its board in October 2009 and reduced his equity stake from 75 million shares to 12 million shares.
He came up with ‘The Icahn Report’ in June 2008, to promote his perspective on shareholder activism. It hosts the ‘United Shareholders of America,’ a platform where individual investors have the opportunity to sign up and campaign for shareholder rights.
He was the chairman of several companies such as ‘American Railcar Industries,’ ‘WestPoint Home,’ ‘XO Communications,’ and ‘Imclone.’ He served as director of ‘Blockbuster’ till January 2010.
He benefitted from greenmailing, a practice where a company would make him give up his takeover attempt by either buying him out or complying with the organizational and strategic reforms demanded by him.
He acquired a 10% stake in ‘Netflix’ in October 2012, and within a year, in October 2013, he sold around 50% of his shares, thereby earning a fortune.
He sued the American multinational computer-technology company ‘Dell’ and its board on August 2, 2013, to thwart a buyout bid of US$ 24.4 billion by the company’s CEO, Michael Dell.
In October 2013, he acquired 4.7 million shares of the American multinational technology-company ‘Apple Inc.’ He acquired another half-billion worth of the company’s shares in January 2014. He pressed the company to buy back its stock worth US$ 150 billion. He suggested multinational e-commerce corporation ‘eBay’ to spin off payments service ‘PayPal.’
He supported Donald Trump in the campaign for the 2016 US presidential election. It was announced on December 21, 2016, that Icahn would be inducted as ‘Special Advisor to the President’ on ‘Regulatory Reform,’ after Trump assumes office as ‘President.’ He held this post till August 18, 2017.
A septuagenarian, Icahn is still quite active in the market and maintains associations with some of the biggest companies of the world, such as ‘Apple,’ ‘Dell,’ ‘Netflix,’ ‘eBay,’ and ‘Family Dollar’ among others.
He was married to Liba Trejbal from 1979 to 1999. They had two children. Businessman, investor, and philanthropist Brett Icahn is one of them. Carl married Gail Golden in 1999.
The ‘Icahn Scholar Program,’ the ‘Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology,’ the ‘Carl C. Icahn Center for Science,’ and the ‘Icahn Stadium’ are named after him.
This hard-line investor and negotiator is also known for his philanthropic efforts. He funded a genomics laboratory, known as the ‘Carl C. Icahn Laboratory,’ at the ‘Princeton University.’ He contributed to the ‘Mount Sinai Hospital’ in New York, which renamed the ‘Mount Sinai School of Medicine’ as the ‘Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai’ and named another building as the ‘Icahn Medical Institute.’
His foundation, the ‘Children's Rescue Fund’ that developed the ‘Icahn House’ in the Bronx and runs the ‘Icahn House West’ and the ‘Icahn House East’ provides shelter to the homeless. He joined the ‘Giving Pledge’ list in 2010. He also received several awards and recognitions for his humanitarian efforts, such as the ‘Starlight Foundation's Founders Award.’