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But if Icahn does have a plan, he's holding his cards close to his chest and avoiding specifics or making fuzzy comments such as: "There's a shot down the road that we could, with the PC business, merge with a Hewlett-Packard or acquire their PC business. Hewlett-Packard, like us, are divided [between PC and enterprise solutions]. We should be divided sooner or later," Icahn said on Bloomberg.
Icahn's usual strategy is to buy a stake in a target company, oust the CEO and then sell pieces of the firm to another bidder at a huge profit, said Endpoint's Kay. He said Icahn's slash-and-burn approach at Dell could leave the company a shell of its former self. "It's pretty clear that Icahn is not going to be good for the company's long-term viability, employees who want to keep their jobs, and Dell partners," Kay said.
Icahn and Southeastern Asset Management are less interested in a portfolio products integrated into a single solution, Kay said. For Icahn the ability to segment Dell into software, hardware, cloud and client divisions might be of more interest in hopes one or more pieces can be sold off.
But Icahn can be a powerful force for good as an activist investor. The Harvard Business Review, in a March 29 blog post, described Icahn as such: "When Icahn doesn't actually get the reins, he often does some good -- shaking up complacent boards and management and motivating them to do what it takes to raise their company's share price and get him to go away. He's much better as a gadfly than as a takeover artist."
Discern's Shaw and others point out there is a big opportunity to run Dell better. Icahn, they said, may not be seen a tech visionary, but he knows how to run a business.
Icahn bought 10 percent of Netflix stock in November 2012, and now the company's shares rose 500 percent. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told Forbes at first he didn't like Icahn and now "I enjoy his company." Icahn owns a just under 9 percent of Dell stocks.
But Icahn's bull-in-a-China-shop style of management may be too big of a pill to swallow for many Dell partners. "If Carl Icahn took control we wouldn't give up on Dell, but I'd be anxious to see how things unfold and what it means to us."
The latest news on the shareholder votes for Dell is it's going to be close. On Tuesday Bloomberg reported that the Dell board was hoping to postpone Thursday's vote until next week. Sources close to the board told CRN that the vote is still on for this Thursday.