Carl Icahn has launched a stinging attack on Marc Andreessen, one of the heavyweights of Silicon Valley venture capital, accusing him of conflicts of interest in his role as a board member at eBay and demanding he step down from the post.
Mr Icahn put the focus squarely on corporate governance at eBay as he tries to encourage fellow shareholders to support his own nominees for the board.
Ultimately, he is hoping to push eBay into spinning off its payments business, PayPal.
The assault on Mr Andreessen was strongly worded, even by Mr Icahn’s pugnacious standards. The activist investor accused him of making billions of dollars for his venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz, by buying assets cheaply from eBay, instead of arguing for the company to keep hold of them itself.
Andreessen Horowitz was a member of the consortium that bought a majority stake in Skype, the internet telephony business, from eBay at a valuation of $2.75bn before it was later sold to Microsoft for $8.5bn.
At the same time, he has made investments in four payments companies that rival PayPal, including Dwolla, Fab and Coinbase, Mr Icahn said in an open letter to the board published on Monday.
“How can Mr Andreessen be trusted to objectively advise [eBay chief executive John] Donahoe and the board about the strategic direction of PayPal when he has vested interest in so many of its competitors?”
Mr Icahn has amassed a stake of a little less than 1 per cent in eBay, through shares and options, and has put up two nominees for election to the eBay board at its shareholder meeting in the spring.
Shares in eBay opened almost 2 per cent higher in anticipation that Mr Icahn could wring shareholder-friendly changes at the company through his aggressive stance.
“We should not even have to run a proxy fight to change the board composition,” Mr Icahn wrote. “In any sane business environment these directors would simply resign immediately from the eBay board, either out of pure decency or sheer embarrassment at the public exposure of the extent of their self-serving activities.”
His open letter also attacked Scott Cook, another board member, for retaining $1bn of shares in Intuit, a competitor to PayPal that Mr Cook used to run as chief executive.
“New eBay shareholder Carl Icahn has cherry-picked old news clips and anecdotes out of context to attack the integrity of two of the most respected, accomplished and value-driven technology leaders in Silicon Valley,” eBay countered in a statement.
“Marc Andreessen and Scott Cook bring extraordinary insight, expertise and leadership to eBay’s board, which is scrupulous in its governance practices and fully transparent with regard to its directors’ other affiliations and businesses.”
Mr Andreessen declined to comment. He has been a member of eBay’s board since 2008. Mr Cook joined in 1998.