Cancel the Clowns: Icahn Avoids a Circus

Is Carl Icahn getting soft, not up for the good old days of name-calling proxy fights and heated shareholder meetings-turned-circuses? It sure seems that way after he withdrew his slate of candidates to join Genzyme's (Nasdaq: GENZ  ) board yesterday. In exchange for supporting the company's slate, Genzyme will nominate two from Icahn's slate after the meeting next week.

Icahn says he's "always pleased when a proxy fight can be avoided." Seems more likely that he figured two in the hand was worth more than four in the bush. Genzyme's management hasn't exactly earned the right to re-election, but the chance of getting the other two nominees on the board was a little less likely after Genzyme pointed out that two of them sat on Biogen Idec's (Nasdaq: BIIB  ) board, which sells competing products.

In addition to the Icahn nominees, Genzyme will have other new blood on the board, which seems to have given Icahn the confidence to settle. Genzyme recently added another activist investor, Ralph Whitworth, and former Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN  ) executive Dennis Fenton will join the board after the shareholder meeting.

Of course, if Icahn really cared about the company, maybe he would have come to this compromise months ago, before the company spent shareholder dollars jet-setting around the country trying to convince shareholders to support its slate. Alas, the ringing toll bell announcing the shareholder meeting next week was probably required to get a compromise worked out for both sides.

For Genzyme shareholders, the compromise is probably the best thing that could have happened. The board gets a few more checks and balances and management gets one last chance to show that it can turn things around.

For investors who like to follow the moves of the guru, I'm not sure what Icahn's new propensity to negotiate means. Might he up his bid for Lions Gate Entertainment (NYSE: LGF  ) or maybe take a few seats in exchange for dropping the bid? Trying to guess which way Icahn might go and what that might do to the share price is difficult.

All in all, purchasing companies based on fundamentals remains the best approach, whether Icahn joins your ranks as a fellow shareholder or not.

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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