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D.F. Krause
  D.F.'s Column Archive

November 29, 2006

No, Kirk! Stay!


Can you imagine how all the late-night comedians felt when Dan Quayle finally exited the scene in 1993? That’s how I feel right now. Kirk Kerkorian is a business humor columnist’s dream – or should I say, the combination of Kerkorian and GM. It’s like gold.


Kerkorian is eccentric, old, strange-looking and really, really rich. And best of all, he scares the bejeezus out of stuffed-shirt corporate types, who cower under the conference table in the boardroom wondering, “What will he want us to do now? Merge with Purina?” (As if dog food would lower itself to be co-branded with GM cars.)


And General Motors? Oh my goodness. Talk about a company that simultaneously suffers from delusions of grandeur and fear of its own shadow. Hovering over the GM board is the perfect role for Kerkorian. No matter how loony his proposals – and they can get pretty loony – they can’t possibly be more insane than the things GM has already done.


But that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach signals that the best gift ever given me may soon be taken away. Last week, Kerkorian sold a quarter of his GM shares, leaving him as the proud owner of only 7.4 percent of the company. He has vowed to quickly sell the rest of it and, in turn, significantly increase his stake in the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas (which he built – the hotel, not the city, and yes I’m told there is a difference), washing his hands of GM entirely.


If this happens, what will I do? Kerkorian as GM's major shareholder? Do you have any idea how much material that was good for? Listen. Writing a business humor column isn’t as easy as it looks, buster. Every week, I have to make the most boring subject on Earth funny. When deadline is approaching and the business world is just not amusing me, do you have any idea how comforting it is to simply do a news search for “Kerkorian GM” and know that a column will practically write itself?


Here’s Kirk getting his lackey Jerome York appointed to the board to the horror of Chairman Rick Waggoner. Here’s York demanding that GM stop making the Hummer, sell Jaguar and initiate merger talks with Renault and Nissan.


Oh! Pass the popcorn! There’s Waggoner pretending to discuss the aforementioned merger with his CEO counterparts at Renault and Nissan because the last thing he needs is Kerkorian throwing a fit.


And on it goes. Kerkorian sells a bunch of stock. York resigns. Kerkorian buys back a bunch more stock. Someone remembers that Kerkorian once tried a hostile takeover of Chrysler, but is relieved that he seems content at 89 to just sit around making people nervous.


Granted, I’d do the same thing if I were him. Kerkorian declared a few years ago that if GM liquidated all its assets, they would be worth three times the actual market price of its stock. In terms of shareholder value, GM is at best a long-term investment, and that’s assuming it stops losing $4 billion a year at some point in the not-too-distant future.


What is an 89-year-old geezer clinging to here? The employee discount? (Besides, they keep giving that away to everyone too.)


Then again, I’ve always figured that Kerkorian invested in GM mainly for purposes of self-amusement. That he also managed to amuse me in the process is surely a bonus he cherishes, but if the toy has started to bore him, can I reasonably expect him to hang on just because I will have to start digging for actual column topics of my own?


Sure, GM will still be ridiculous, so I can always make fun of it, but it’s not the same without a freaky major shareholder who looks like a catcher’s mitt and has a name that reminds people of a suicide doctor.


I’ll be OK, everyone. Just give me a minute. I guess I can always make fun of Donald Trump – not that that hasn’t been done to death. Kirk, I thought we were a team, you and me. Now you’re on your way back to Vegas, and I have to start working for a living again.


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