Carl Icahn tapped former
CEO Frank Biondi to help push for change atop
, the world's largest media company.
Biondi has agreed to run the company if elected at a spring shareholder meeting. Biondi brings with him broad experience running media companies. He held top positions at Universal Studios before it merged with
NBC and is a board member of
. He also was a leading exec at Home Box Office in the early '80s, when it was part of Time Inc. Biondi left Viacom in 1996 after a falling out with Sumner Redstone.
One hedge fund manager with a significant stake in Time Warner says he believes Icahn is being "underestimated in terms of what he can do. Biondi is no joke." This person also points to big investor Franklin Mutual's willingness to wait the game out as a boon to Icahn's cause.
Icahn's crusade is expected to come to a bit of a head in coming weeks, as the financier will soon make public the details about his charge for change. He has hired Lazard Freres hard hitter Bruce Wasserstein to map out a strategic plan for the company's future and to cook up an alternative slate of directors. Lazard Freres is expected to deliver a full report detailing what should be done with the company imminently.
Throughout his push to boost Time Warner's share price, Icahn has increasingly hammered on what he calls the bloated, bureaucratic culture at the company, symbolized by its lavish new headquarters on Manhattan's tony Columbus Circle.
In the press release announcing his arrival, Biondi said he "intended to make Time Warner a far more nimble, market-driven organization by reducing its duplicative $500 million-a-year corporate overhead and by freeing the individual companies within Time Warner to successfully pursue their creative and strategic interests."
In a conversation with
Monday afternoon, Icahn pointed to a "secular change taking place in the corporate governance world." He pointed to the poor performance of Time Warner stock under current management and said he believes investors will soon embrace results-oriented leadership. He said that means Wall Street will take note of the virtues of splitting the company up -- and to some of the "waste" in the company's management and PR structure.
Icahn reiterated that it is not about a personal issue with CEO Dick Parsons and rather a question of what has and hasn't happened in terms of growth at the company. Icahn again points to the last four years at AOL as an example. "They've had four years with AOL and now they're waking up to the facts about voice and broadband," Icahn says. He also doesn't give much credence to the company's claim that it has been busy sorting out legal hangovers from the AOL Time Warner merger, saying that the government doesn't crush companies like Time Warner.
Manhattan-based Time Warner is due to report year-end earnings on Wednesday. Analysts will be looking for the company to earn 22 cents per share on just under $12 billion in revenue for its fourth quarter.
In response to the company's perpetually flagging share price, Icahn has said he would like to see sweeping strategic changes including a possible split-up and a bigger stock buyback.
Time Warner shares were up 42 cents or close to 3% to $17.71 on Monday afternoon.