Billionaires' tiff: Best to leave charity out of it

ATTACKED: Investor Carl Icahn was criticised over Twitter by Mr Gross for pressuring Apple to buy back stock.
Billionaires' tiff: Best to leave charity out of it

CHALLENGED: Pimco co-founder Bill Gross was dared by Mr Icahn over Twitter to commit to a charity campaign.


    Oct 30, 2013

    Billionaires' tiff: Best to leave charity out of it


    THE Twitter fight between billionaires Carl Icahn and Bill Gross has sunk to a new low.

    Now, both billionaires have brandished philanthropy as a weapon in a public exchange of insults.

    On Monday, Mr Icahn tweeted: "To Bill Gross @PIMCO: If you really want to do good, why not join like Gates, I and many others have?"

    The clear implication: If Mr Gross, co-founder of Pimco (Pacific Investment Management Company), doesn't do what Mr Icahn says, then he must not want to do good.

    Mr Icahn's broadside violates the Giving Pledge's spirit. It isn't supposed to be used as a cudgel to browbeat one's critics.

    As described on the charity organisation's website, "the idea of the Giving Pledge came from the ideas and input generated from many great conversations that Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett had with other philanthropists in the United States and abroad".

    It is "an effort to help address society's most pressing problems by inviting the world's wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving more than half of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes either during their lifetime or in their will".

    Note the word "inviting" in that statement. Mr Icahn didn't invite the famed Pimco money manager to make such a commitment. He dared him to, as a way to one-up him in a stupid argument that Mr Gross started.

    Last week, Mr Gross tweeted that "Icahn should leave #Apple alone & spend more time like Bill Gates. If #Icahn's so smart, use it to help people not yourself".

    The next day, Mr Gross wrote: "By the way, I should spend more TIME like Bill Gates too - we all should. He and Melinda are great paragons."

    Mr Icahn, a corporate raider-turned-activist investor, has received much criticism over his campaign to pressure Apple into buying back US$150 billion (S$186 billion) of stock.

    Mr Gross' initial attack on Mr Icahn came across as personal and petty. It's understandable why Mr Icahn got upset.

    For what it's worth, Mr Gross' personal wealth is estimated at US$2 billion. He has endowed a foundation with US$293 million in assets and raised money for Doctors Without Borders, a medical charity, by selling parts of his stamp collection.

    Maybe that's a small part of his philanthropy. Maybe he plans to do more. I have no idea, and neither does Mr Icahn.

    Here's hoping we never see another nasty tweet from these two about each other again. They both need to get out of each other's faces.