Another day, another letter from Carl Icahn attacking eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY) board members, accusing them of conflicts of interest and of hiding behind their public relations machine to avoid addressing his accusations. eBay had challenged Icahn to a debate (which anyone with a passing knowledge of Icahn should have known he would accept), but when CNBC offered their channel as the public forum eBay backed down, which seems to have prompted Icahn’s 4th letter in five days.
“Now, it appears that an honest, accurate debate with eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY), which democracy calls for, will never happen because they would rather hide behind their public relations machine, believing that if they repeat ‘world-class’ enough times stockholders will believe it,” Icahn wrote.
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Icahn accuses board of having conflicts of interest
As Icahn has explained in previous letters to eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY) shareholders, he has two main complaints about the board. First, he points to multiple conflicts of interest. eBay board member Scott Cook owns nearly $1 billion worth of stock in Intuit, one of PayPal’s main competitors (eBay owns PayPal), so he has a vested interest in seeing PayPal lose market share to another company. It also gives him inside information on PayPal’s operations and business strategy, which he could conceivably pass on to Intuit.
In a different vein, Icahn accuses Marc Andreessen of enriching himself at other shareholders’ expense. eBay sold its controlling interest in Skype to Andreessen and Silver Lake for $1.9 billion, who then turned around and sold it to Microsoft for $8.5 billion just 18 months later. In both cases, eBay is allowing board members to sit on both sides of the table, and Icahn wants shareholders to kick them off if the board won’t do it themselves.
Icahn also argues that eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY)’s stock price has underperformed since CEO John Donahue took over.
Icahn wants eBay to spin off PayPal
Icahn has also been vocal in his desire to see eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY) spin off PayPal into a separate company (as has PayPal co-founder Elon Musk). He argues that it doesn’t make sense for a struggling auction site to own one of the most widely used online payments systems in the world.
“PayPal is a jewel, and eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY) is covering up its value,” said Icahn. “If you just went out and took it public you’d get a huge premium because of growth.”
Icahn owns about 2% of eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY), which isn’t enough for him to force his views on the board, but he has a lot of experience launching sustained campaigns against management teams that he feels aren’t doing their job, and from the looks of things he has dug in for the long haul.