CHICAGO - Billionaire Carl Icahn may use the three board seats at Yahoo Inc. that he added to his collection yesterday to do . . . not much.
The corporate raider spent more than $1.5 billion to amass a 5 percent stake in Yahoo and snag the seats. But without the support of all-important institutional investors, his impact after winning similar fights has been muted.
The 72-year-old Wall Street veteran sits on at least seven boards and has surrogates serving on many others. Many of those seats - like the two he picked up this spring on Motorola Inc.'s board - were acquired after Icahn locked horns with executives during expensive, public proxy battles.
But so far, his impact on Motorola has been minimal. The Illinois-based cellphone maker agreed to get Icahn's input on the planned separation of its mobile devices operations into a freestanding company and the search for the division's chief executive.
In exchange, Icahn agreed not to solicit proxies at the company's annual meeting and to dismiss litigation he filed against the company. Critics say Icahn can be little more than a distraction, especially for troubled companies like Motorola that are already in the midst of a turnaround.
During more than four decades spent buying and selling companies, Icahn made a name for himself by leading hostile takeover battles for names such as TWA and RJR Nabisco.
Icahn also won three seats on Blockbuster Inc.'s board in 2005 and, since then, the movie rental chain's stock price has plunged.
Despite his newly acquired seats at Yahoo, Icahn's power faces a limited future there. That's because eight of Yahoo's nine current directors will remain on the board. That means Icahn will need support from powerful institutional investors to persuade the company to accept a deal with Microsoft.
"If they join in, then the game's over," said Thomas Lys, a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. "If they don't, then with three seats, Icahn can't do very much. He can be a pain, but you can ignore pain."