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D.F. Krause
  D.F.'s Column Archive
March 15, 2006
Carl Ichan Meets His Match With Korean Pranksters

Carl Icahn is known for being an activist investor. Last year’s confrontation with Time Warner was only the latest example of Icahn’s aggressive efforts to promote his agenda and his interests.


And Carl is a billionaire, so this thousandaire is loathe to criticize too harshly.


But Carl may have met his match with the people who dominate the cigarette market in South Korea. Yes, I’m sure you lay awake many nights wondering about the twists and turns of the cigarette market in South Korea. Who doesn’t? Well, apparently lots of people who don’t have as much money as Carl, and that is truly lots of people.


Carl has been aggressively buying up stock in KT&G Corp., the dominant cigarette maker in South Korea, where one in four people are smokers. Hey, if you had Kim Jung Il just across the border, you’d smoke too. And you might as well score your smokes from KT&G, which Carl is now trying to buy lock, stock and barrel.


That would complete quite a journey from the days not long ago when Icahn and his allies were fighting just to end a monopoly on tobacco operations by the South Korean government. From nationalized industry to private industry to my industry. Mine all mine. Now that’s what I call lighting the victory cigar.


But those tricky Koreans have a funny way of laying out the red carpet for the prospective new boss. With a shareholders meeting set for March 17, with a board of directors slate to be decided – St. Patrick’s Day isn’t a day off in South Korea? – foreign investors like Icahn obviously want to vote electronically, because it’s not that convenient to show up in Seoul. What if Time Warner tries some funny stuff while Icahn isn’t there to argue with them?


So KT&G told foreign investors they could vote electronically from off site any time through Friday, March 10. One problem, though. They changed the date to Thursday, March 9, and didn’t tell Carl. Those wacky Koreans! That’s almost as good as the time they short-sheeted Icahn’s bed at investor camp. (Of course, he then bought the cabin and made them all sleep in the broom closet, but still, pranks are fun.)


So imagine their flummoxation when they tried to send in their vote on the 10th. “Hello? This is the people who represent Carl Icahn. We’d like to vote for all the people supported by Carl Icahn.”


“Oh, so sorry, that was yesterday.”


“What was yesterday?”


“You’re trying to vote electronically? That was yesterday.”


“What?!?!?!?! We were told we could do it today!”


“Yesterday you could have done it today, but today it’s changed so it’s yesterday. We are very sorry for the inconvenience. Thank you for smoking KT&G brand cigarettes. We bet you’re reaching for one right now.”




“I’m sorry, there’s no Korean translation for that. Have a nice St. Patrick’s Day.”


“That’s next Friday.”


“Oh, we changed it to today. No one told you?”




Something tells me Carl will find other ways to get what he wants. He wants KT&G to sell off a bunch of real estate, do a separate listing for its ginseng division and generally do stuff to boost his share price.


Oh, and sell him the company.


Then he can make the electronic vote-taking people sleep in the broom closet. And not a non-smoking one. But until then, we are reminded that not even Carl Icahn gets everything he wants immediately all the time. There are always little tricks and pranks to complicate a billionaire’s inevitable journey to his preferred destination.


© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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