ARS-ED is a new weekly feature on what we're learning from Andrew Ross Sorkin's weekly column, DealBook, in the New York Times.
It was about a year and a half ago when we first saw New York Times hotshot Andrew Ross Sorkin in the same room as Carl Icahn. They were on a panel together at some midtown club, discussing exactly what you'd expect Sorkin--who runs DealBook for the Times and is the paper's top M&A reporter (and is rumored to be in the running to take the top editorial job at the Wall Street Journal)--and Icahn to discuss: deals, CEOs and money.
(After the jump, more on what we learned at that panel and what we learned this week from Sorkin.)
We probably would have tuned out the chat (we're terrible at paying attention to conference panels) except for three things. First, Icahn is a fantastic story teller. He's got an anecdote for every point he makes. (He's even taken a stab at standup comedy.) Second, Sorkin's got a confident, almost flip, way about him that completely belies his loose-limbed gangly appearance. You expect him seem at least a bit nerdy and instead he comes across like Tiger Woods teeing off. You expect the Boy Wonder of the Times will be awkward but he's charming. The contrast between expectations and performance is enthralling. Sorkin under promises and over delivers. Third, and most important, we were fascinated by the familiarity between these two men. As we said over a year ago, those two are tight.
Even before the panel began, we noticed how well Sorkin and Icahn got along. Sorkin had arrived early and was chatting with some serious looking people about serious sounding things, sipping something that may or may not have been alcoholic. Icahn blustered in late, seemingly oblivious to the fact that all eyes were on him, and instantly ordered a vodka martini. Almost immediately he and Sorkin were chatting away, Sorkin asking questions in a way that reminded me of a less petulant Luke Skywalker talking to Yoda. Or maybe a novice a Buddhist temple. Icahn was more than happy to play Yoda, the head monk.
But we didn't know the two were dating. Okay, it's not romantic. It's closer to bromantic. It's a man date. Here's Sorkin in the latest edition of his weekly column, complaining that Icahn showed up to the date late and ordered a drink before even saying hello.
About a month and a half ago, Carl Icahn and I went to dinner at Tse Yang, an upscale Chinese restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. Mr. Icahn, the corporate raider turned activist investor, came blustering through the dimly lit restaurant about 20 minutes late, grabbed one of the waiters -- they all know him -- and ordered a martini.
Icahn comes across as charming, perhaps a bit weary (Sorkin notes he slumps and sighs after a tough day) and the man definitely believes he is something of the Superman of Shareholders, battling entrenched management and complacent boards on behalf of the common shareholder.
As Henry Blodget, over at Alley Insider, points out, under Times rules Sorkin probably had to pay for Icahn's drinks and the dinner, since reporters aren't normally allowed to accept gifts from story subjects. But Sorkin makes Icahn pay for those twenty minutes by revealing that when Icahn tried to call Steve Ballmer by going through the Microsoft switchboard, Ballmer wouldn't take his call.
And, near the end of the column, Sorkin takes a slap at Icahn's business acumen and issues a warning to Yahoo shareholders that might be tempted to vote for Icahn's control of the company. "Activists like Mr. Icahn may be great at making money by flipping companies," Sorkin writes, "but they are less great at operating them."
And then we remembered that, eventually, Luke Skywalker disobeys Yoda and flies off to save his friends.
A Gamble, but What if He Wins? [New York Times]