Icahn’s progression from arbitrageur and liquidator of closed-end funds to full-blown corporate raider started in 1976 with a distillation of the strategy into an investment memorandum distributed to prospective investors:It is our opinion that the elements in today’s economic environment have combined in a unique way to create large profit-making opportunities with relatively little risk. [T]he real or liquidating value of many American companies has increased markedly in the last few years; however, interestingly, this has not at all been reflected in the market value of their common stocks. Thus, we are faced with a unique set of circumstances that, if dealt with correctly can lead to large profits, as follows: [T]he management of these asset-rich target companies generally own very little stock themselves and, therefore, usually have no interest in being acquired. They jealously guard their prerogatives by building ‘Chinese walls’ around their enterprises that hopefully will repel the invasion of domestic and foreign dollars. Although these ‘walls’ are penetrable, most domestic companies and almost all foreign companies are loath to launch an ‘unfriendly’ takeover attempt against a target company. However, whenever a fight for control is initiated, it generally leads to windfall profits for shareholders. Often the target company, if seriously threatened, will seek another, more friendly enterprise, generally known as a ‘white knight’ to make a higher bid, thereby starting a bidding war. Another gambit occasionally used by the target company is to attempt to purchase the acquirers’ stock or, if all else fails, the target may offer to liquidate.
It is our contention that sizeable profits can be earned by taking large positions in ‘undervalued’ stocks and then attempting to control the destinies of the companies in question by:
a) trying to convince management to liquidate or sell the company to a ‘white knight’; b) waging a proxy contest; c) making a tender offer and/or; d) selling back our position to the company.