Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, in the final two weeks of his tender for Lions Gate Entertainment Inc., was able to scrape together just enough of a stake to give him veto power over major transactions such as acquisitions or asset sales.
My heart soared. Surely, Mr. Icahn would not assert himself in the entertainment industry unless he had a Chief Culture Officer. Who knew? How thrilling.
And then it fell again. Nothing in the business press suggests that Mr. Icahn has, or has provided himself with, the kind of cultural knowledge required to run a film and TV studio. (I may have missed something here and would be very glad to hear it. I would be happy to run a correction and an apology.)
This is to say that Icahn may not be qualified to exercise the veto power now in his possession. And I don’t want to hear the traditional defense:
"business is business, Mr. Icahn doesn’t need to know about culture in general or entertainment in particular to exercise his new veto power at Lions Gate.”
This is like saying any engineer can work for NASA. Because stress is stress. It’s like saying, the Prime Minister of Greece could step into the British House of Parliament. Because politics is politics. Er, no. Business is not business, especially when it is B to C business, especially when it has to do with the entertainment world which turns entirely on the production and consumption of culture, and especially when the entertainment world is roiled constantly by shifting consumer expectations. This business is not business any manager can manage. It demands an extraordinary mastery of American and not just American culture.
So it’s a little strange that Mr. Icahn doesn’t have a Chief Culture Officer. What’s stranger still is the fact the Lions Gate has not defended itself with a cultural accusation. It has called Icahn offer “coercive” and it has “criticized Mr. Icahn’s track record as an activist investor,” but it hasn’t pointed out the obvious. I mean, when does Jon Feltheimer, co-chairman and CEO of Lions Gate or vice chairman, Michael Burns say to shareholders, “Look, Mr. Icahn doesn’t know anything about the entertainment industry.”
If Mr. Icahn wants my advice (and who doesn’t), I would recommend he hire Gareth Kay. Gareth is top of mind because I had dinner with him last night, so I have very recent evidence of his readiness for office. He is now very happily employed at Goodby, Silverstein and Partners as a planner, helping them grow at a furious pace. He is fantastically smart, informed, strategic, adroit, alert and clear. He is just the guy to give Icahn and Lions Gate the big picture.
Mr. Icahn, please consider his appointment part of your new cultural due diligence.
Worden, Nat. 2010. Getting Foot in Lions Gate, Icahn Now Has Veto Power. Wall Street Journal. July 2, pp. B1-B2, p. B1.