Billionaire investor Carl Icahn kicked off the week with scathing questions for Yahoo, as his proxy fight heats up with roughly eight weeks to go before Yahoo's annual shareholders meeting.
In the latest salvo, Icahn presses Yahoo to answer his previous questions as to why the Internet search pioneer opted to install an expensive employee severance plan as a retention method, while neglecting to mention to its workers that Microsoft had earmarked $1.5 billion to retain employees, should it have been successful in acquiring Yahoo.
Here is Icahn's letter to Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock:
June 9, 2008
701 First Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA 94089
After reading Yahoo!'s press release put out on Friday in response to my letter of that morning, I cannot help but wonder if you even read my letter.
Again, Yahoo! keeps repeating misstatements in the hope it will convince its shareholders that these misstatements are valid. I cannot understand why the Yahoo! board feels so strongly about its "poison pill" severance plans and why it continues to refuse to rescind it. How can you continue to repeat that your severance plan is in the best interests of shareholders and employees? Indeed, Yahoo!'s own compensation advisor called the severance plan "nuts." Is it not true, as the shareholder complaint stated, that Microsoft's CEO earmarked $1.5 billion for employee retention (a benefit you neglected to tell your employees about)? Is it not better to incentivize employees to stay in their jobs than to quit? Instead of just continuing to repeat the mantra that we have made an inaccurate interpretation of your severance plan, why do you refuse to go into detail as to why our interpretation is incorrect? Additionally, a New York paper reported this weekend that "sources close to Microsoft said the severance plan was a 'big issue' when deciding what price they could pay for Yahoo!"
In your press release from Friday, you stated again that I do not have a credible plan for Yahoo! Did you even bother to read my letter, which went into great detail on what measures I would ask the new board to take? Ironically, while you keep inquiring about my plans, it is interesting to note that Yahoo!'s board has been busy reaping great compensation benefits. Indeed, you made approximately $10,000 per week last year -- not bad for a board member. I believe most of your shareholders would be interested in seeing your time sheets -- especially in light of the fact that, in my estimation, most of your so-called "plans" over the last few years have been failures. Remember the old adage -- those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Perhaps most importantly, under my plan, I would ask the Board to bring in a talented and experienced CEO to replace Jerry Yang and return Jerry to his role as "Chief Yahoo!" It is extremely important to note that Google hired a great operator as a CEO who helped to transform the Company into a giant at the expense of Yahoo! According to publicly available financial information, while Google's income from operations grew 59% per year over the last two years, Yahoo!'s income from operations shrank 21%. What was the board doing over this period? Where was their great "plan"? I believe a new CEO with operating experience might well have had and might still have a very salutary impact on Yahoo! I ask again what your great "plan" has been over the last few years. Why did you permit Google to leave you in the dust?
I outlined a number of questions in Friday's letter. Why don't you do me the courtesy of answering my questions as I have answered yours?
CARL C. ICAHN
While it's not clear to what degree Yahoo will address Icahn's letter, one thing is likely certain: Yahoo will send its own salvo in response. It can't afford not to; the stakes are too high. Yahoo is hoping to woo investors to re-elect its current slate at the August 1 shareholders meeting, rather than vote in Icahn's dissident slate of directors.