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By Svea Herbst-Bayliss
NEW YORK, July 16 Carl Icahn and William Ackman are friends again.
The billionaire investors, who have been at odds over nutrition and diet company Herbalife, made up in public on Wednesday, ending a decade long feud that exploded on cable television 18 months ago.
Icahn, 78, who made his reputation in the 1980s, and Ackman, 48, seen by some as a young version of the older corporate raider, sparred over opposing bets on Herbalife on CNBC in January 2013. Icahn has taken a long position on the stock and Ackman is short.
On Wednesday at the CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha Conference, the men hugged and then praised each other over their investor activism.
When asked about who would win the Herbalife bet, Ackman said "it is not about winning. I would love to get Carl out of Herbalife."
He added that Icahn could walk away with a handsome profit.
"Carl we should have a conversation," he said to Icahn.
Privately, Ackman said it would be hard to find someone to buy Icahn's shares. Icahn said he has not sold any of the 17 million shares he owns.
The war of words that began when Icahn called Ackman a cry baby in a school yard and Ackman shot back that Icahn was not an honest man captivated Wall Street for roughly half an hour on CNBC and was played repeatedly by the network.
The network provided the stage for the reconciliation at its CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha conference after suggesting the move to Ackman three weeks ago.
The detente has been months in the making, with both sides saying relations improved in late April and hinting they might even team up. Each man took pains to say nice things about the other in recent weeks, often while appearing on CNBC.
On Wednesday, Ackman appeared as a "mystery guest" at the conference, causing the audience to applaud when he walked onto the stage and gave Icahn a hug.
The men agreed good corporate chiefs need to run companies and that boards should let executives do their jobs, as long as they do them well.
Icahn said there was room for their kind of activism.
"At the risk of sounding immodest, there is no one better at finance than us," Icahn said to Ackman.
Both agreed that lawyers, including Martin Lipton, known as the father of the poison pill that limits the shares an activist can buy, are getting rich because of them.
"Marty (Lipton) should be sending royalty checks to Carl," Ackman said. "Maybe I deserve a few too."
The highly orchestrated event comes at a critical time for Ackman's Pershing Square Capital Management hedge fund, which has one of the industry's best records this year with one fund up 25 percent.
He is also trying to get Botox maker Allergan to sell itself to rival Valeant Pharmaceuticals, and readying one of his funds for a public listing in Europe.
Icahn has come under scrutiny as federal investigators probe whether he illegally passed on stock tips.
On Wednesday he declined to discuss the probe.
"I don't want to talk about it at this time," he added. (Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Chris Reese and Andre Grenon)