NEW YORK -- Carl C. Icahn, the billionaire investor seeking a spot on Motorola Inc.'s board, has won the support of ClearBridge Advisors, gaining one of the phone maker's biggest shareholders as an ally.
ClearBridge, which owns 54 million Motorola shares, plans to vote for Icahn at Monday's annual meeting, according to a statement by the firm yesterday. ClearBridge, owned by Legg Mason Inc. of Baltimore, is the largest shareholder to back Icahn so far.
ClearBridge's support may help Icahn put more pressure on Motorola Chief Executive Officer Edward N. Zander, at the helm as the world's second-biggest phone maker posted its first sales decline in almost four years amid price cuts. Zander has said he'll overhaul marketing and product design to improve profit margins.
"Obviously Icahn being elected to the board would be a positive catalyst," said John Krause, an analyst at Minneapolis- based Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, where he helps manage $65 billion in assets, including Motorola shares. "He's been good to shareholders in a lot of different instances."
Krause declined to comment on how Thrivent plans to vote.
Shares of Motorola rose 35 cents, about 2 percent, to close at $18.08 yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange. They had dropped 14 percent this year.
ClearBridge, based in New York, owns about 2.3 percent of Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola, trailing Icahn's 2.9 percent. Both are among the phone maker's top 10 shareholders.
"Given recent events at the company, we believe it is in the best interest of all shareholders to have a new representative on the board," ClearBridge Chief Executive Officer Brian Posner said in the statement. Nevertheless, ClearBridge is "deeply respectful of the quality of Motorola's board."
Motorola's other biggest shareholders, including Barclays Global Investors, Dodge & Cox, State Street Corp. and Fidelity Investments, declined to comment or didn't return calls.
Icahn plans to press Motorola executives to improve profit margins and eventually give back cash to shareholders. He promised in a letter to shareholders released yesterday that he would invest in Motorola for the "long term" if he wins a seat.
Motorola's profit declines began last year, after it slashed prices for phones such as its best-selling Razr to compete with new models from Nokia Oyj and Samsung Electronics Co. The average price of its phones slid almost 20 percent to $119.
In the first quarter, Motorola refused to match some handset price cuts by rivals, striving for profitability instead of market share gains. That led to lower unit shipments and a loss at the handset unit, Motorola's largest.