It takes a lot of tenacity to work your way into the world’s most exclusive group: the billionaires’ club.
Carl Icahn, a 78-year-old investor who has an estimated net worth of $24 billion, exhibited this trait right from the start.
In Tony Robbins’ new book “Money: Master The Game,” Icahn described his outsized aspirations and how he didn’t just look for opportunities — he made them.
Icahn grew up in the Far Rockaway neighborhood of Queens, New York. His mother was a teacher, and his father worked as a cantor at a local synagogue.
“When I was applying to colleges, my teachers told me, ‘Don’t bother with the Ivy League. They don’t take kids from this area,'” he told Robbins. “I took the boards anyway and got into all of them. I chose Princeton.”
His father paid the tuition ($750 in the 1950s), but Icahn didn’t have any money to pay for room and board. He got a job as a beach boy at a club in the Rockaways, where he ended up joining a regular poker game with the cabana owners.
Icahn told Robbins:
At first I didn’t even know how to play, and they cleaned me out. So I read three books on poker in two weeks, and after that I was 10 times better than any of them. To me, it was a big game, big stakes. Every summer I won about $2,000, which was like $50,000 back in the ’50s.
After paying his way through Princeton with poker winnings and a stint in the Army, Icahn landed on Wall Street. He borrowed money to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and worked in arbitrage, a low-risk strategy of exploiting price differences, when he started to “make big money, $1.5 to $2 million a year.”
That led him to found his own firm, now called Icahn Enterprises, and to start taking positions in undervalued companies. He said he would find companies that weren’t well-run and would come in and say, “I’m taking you over unless you change, or unless the board does X, Y, Z.” Usually the board acquiesced, he said, but sometimes they fought back and took him to court.
“Very few people had the tenacity I had,” Icahn told Robbins. “I’m a very competitive guy. Passionate or obsessive, whatever you want to call it. And it’s in my nature that whatever I do, I try to be the best.”
By Jenna Goudreau