Icahn vs. Andreessen: a new front in the war between Wall Street and Silicon Valley

Will he square up to Icahn?
Will he square up to Icahn?
Image: AP/Paul Sakuma
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Carl Icahn just upped the ante in his latest crusade to get eBay to spin off its payments business, PayPal. This latest scuffle pits one of Wall Street’s loudest voices against one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent thinkers—a proxy battle for the war between the gritty straight talk of finance and the blue-sky thinking of the tech world.

In a typically strongly worded letter to shareholders this morning (registration required), the 78-year-old activist investor criticized “multiple lapses in corporate governance” at eBay that he said could “put the future of our company in peril.” He’s calling for the board to resign out of “pure decency” and “sheer embarrassment” at this situation.

Icahn took particular aim at board member Marc Andreessen, a co-founder of Netscape and general partner of the venture capital fund Andreessen Horowitz, which was an early investor in Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Andreessen is not just one of the most powerful men in Silicon Valley, but also one of the most visible and publicly active, known for his lengthy meditations on weighty topics such as bitcoin, the finance industry and the sharing economy on his blog. More recently, he has been tweeting up a storm on media business models.

Icahn has accused Andreessen of engaging in several transactions “that lead us to question his loyalty to eBay” while on the board of the company. ”During Mr. Andreessen’s time on the eBay Board, he has purchased large stakes in two former eBay subsidiaries, reaping significant personal riches,” the letter says. He also mentions eBay’s sale of 70% of Skype to Andreessen Horowitz (which the fund later flipped to Microsoft in a deal that netted about $4 billion, Icahn said) and its divestment of the online shopping platform, Kynetic to the fund.

Icahn, who has had a string of victories over the past two years, is equally scathing about Scott Cook, an independent director who was previously eBay’s CEO, and about current CEO John Donahoe. But his criticism of the high profile venture capitalist Andreessen is by far the juiciest.

We’ve reached out to Andreessen for a response, and will be keeping an eye out for any further missiles in this war of words.