Before Dick Parsons was tasked with saving Citi, he was responsible for doing the same for AOL Time Warner.
Though apparently Parsons is not one to get flustered, the company’s slumping share price made him edgier than usual.
That anxiety was heightened when activist investor Carl Icahn began stalking the ailing company — of which he owned 6%.
Icahn was pressuring the company to break itself up, and one of his main arguments was that “Parsons was a glad-hander rather than the hard-core fixer that AOL Time Warner needed.”
So what did Parsons do? He stalked the secretaries.
Parsons fought Icahn with charm. He started dropping by Icahn’s office in the GM Building. “I got to know his secretaries,” Parsons says. “They are always the keepers of everything.”
On one visit Parsons found Icahn’s assistants glum at their desks. It was the boss’s birthday. The women had a cupcake with a candle in it and they wanted to sing Happy Birthday, but they said Icahn wouldn’t hear of it. He was brooding behind closed doors in his office.
Parsons marched into his adversary’s office with the secretaries and started a round of Happy Birthday. At first, Parsons says, Icahn objected vigorously, but finally he calmed down and enjoyed his cake. “It turns out he’s like everybody else,” Parsons chuckles. “Who doesn’t want to have a little celebration on their birthday? He might take offence at this because it makes him sound like a regular guy as opposed to the fearsome Carl Icahn.”
Icahn eventually admitted: “[Dick] is a very disarming guy.”
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