Inside the Biogen Idec Shareholder Meeting, Tensions Flare as Icahn Accuses Company of “Hijacking” Vote

Xconomy Boston — 

[Updated with Bloomberg comment at 12:55 pm Eastern]

Tensions at the Biogen Idec annual shareholders meeting are palpable. Representatives from billionaire investor Carl Icahn have twice called for the polls to be closed—once before CEO James Mullen gave a speech, and a second time before an unscheduled recess was called at approximately 11 am.

The first motion to end voting came after a contentious round of questions from stockholders, which ended around 9:45am. Mullen rose to give a talk, and Icahn representative Richard Jones interrupted, calling for the polls to be closed. When Chairman Bruce Ross indicated that they would remain open, Jones proposed that the motion be put to a stockholder vote.

“That cannot be done procedurally,” said Bruce Ross, chairman of the board. “The motion is out of order.”

What followed were two long PowerPoint presentations by Mullen and Biogen’s President of Research and Development, Cecil Pickett. Jones and other Icahn reps, including Alex Denner, one of Icahn’s nominees to the board, got up and left the room multiple times. They were followed by many eyes in the room, including Mullen’s.

Following the presentations, there was another round of questions, and Ross took the podium again to “exercise his authority to call a recess.”

Before the shareholders had begun to file out, Jones immediately stood up objected. “There has been an inordinate amount of time at this meeting spent on company presentations,” he said. Ross didn’t budge.

The meeting will reconvene at 2 pm Eastern time, according to a Biogen spokeswoman, a detail that Ross failed to mention when he called the recess. Shortly after the recess was announced, Denner called out to Ross, saying “this is not North Korea,” according to Reuters. As of 11:30 am, the news of the recess and what it means was still percolating through the crowd. Icahn’s people huddled in groups around their Blackberrys, craning their necks to quietly confer on strategy.

Later, in a comment to the Boston Globe, Denner said he expected the Icahn slate won at least one seat. The recess, Icahn told Bloomberg News, was an attempt by the company to manipulate the process.

“They’re stalling,” Icahn said to Bloomberg. “They want people to change their votes.”

“”It’s sort of despicable,” Icahn was quoted as saying in the Globe. “Imagine if this was a presidential election, and you’re losing and you call a recess. It’s typical of the way this company has been run. It’s like a country club. They want it their way, and that’s the way it’s going to be. They don’t want to be accountable to anyone.” In a statement, Icahn accused the company of trying to “hijack” the election.

Meanwhile, in the back of a parking lot shortly after the recess, Mullen conferred with his staff on how best to shuttle the Biogen board members to lunch.

During the recess, the company said it was trying to provide shareholders more time to cast their votes. “There are certain shareholders who haven’t had the opportunity to vote, and we are trying to give them the opportunity to vote,” Biogen spokeswoman Naomi Aoki told Bloomberg.