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eBay CEO talks Icahn with other tech CEOs

February 18, 2014: 4:34 PM ET

eBay CEO John Donahoe has discussed Carl Icahn with peers like Tim Cook and Michael Dell.

140122162628-carl-icahn-ebay-620xaFORTUNE -- Carl Icahn wants eBay (EBAY) to spin off its PayPal subsidiary, arguing last month that separate management would improve the growth for both businesses. eBay management disagrees with Icahn, believing that its marketplace and payments businesses work better together than apart.

But there really are two strategic issues here. One is about eBay's future structure. The other is about how eBay should deal specifically with Icahn, who has become increasingly active in the technology space.

eBay CEO John Donahoe stopped by Fortune's New York offices earlier this morning, and mentioned that he has discussed Icahn with such peers as:

  • Tim Cook, CEO of Apple (AAPL). Icahn continues to amass shares in Apple, and recently backed off calls for a massive stock buyback that Cook had opposed.
  • Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Inc. When Dell announced early last year that Michael Dell and Silver Lake had agreed to take the company private, Icahn made several attempts at putting together a rival offer. He also suggested that an Icahn-owned Dell would not involve Michael Dell. He lost, but still made good money on his shares.
  • Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix (NFLX). Icahn acquired around a 10% stake in Netflix in 2012, suggesting that the company was ripe for purchase. Netflix later adopted a poison pill to fend off a hostile takeover by activists like Icahn, and he eventually sold around half his stake at a healthy profit (albeit a much smaller one than had he held onto the stock).

Each situation is, of course, unique -- and Donahoe didn't disclose the contents of his conversations with Cook, et al. But it does seem that big tech not only is taking Icahn seriously, but also is comparing notes on how to handle the activist intruder from New York.

If this develops into a playbook, it may be the first in which both sides win. Cook, Dell and Hastings all eschewed Icahn's suggestions, and did just fine. So did Icahn, and the value of his stock in each company increased. We'll see soon if eBay follows a similar path.

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Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

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