Havas Boss Challenges Bolloré to Declare His Hand

05 November 2004

Alain de Pouzilhac, chairman/ceo of the globe's seventh largest marketing services group Havas, on Thursday challenged its largest single shareholder to state his intentions.

The hurling of the gauntlet coincided with the posting of Havas' third quarter results. These revealed revenues 9% down year-on-year to €338 million ($435.44m; £236.14m) from €373m, although de Pouzilhac sugared the pill by forecasting a "strong improvement" in full-year earnings - despite the flaccid US dollar.

He also used the occasion to demand that Vincent Bolloré, the French corporate raider who has recently built a 22.6% stake in the company, show his hand.

According to de Pouzilhac, Bolloré still hasn't made his intentions toward Havas clear, despite four separate meetings between the two men, the most recent of which was just ten days ago. At these meetings Bolloré made only one thing clear: his governance concerns which could be assuaged by allowing his nominees at least two places on the Havas board.

And on Thursday a spokesman for Bolloré stepped up the war of nerves, saying the raider hadn't ruled out lifting his stake to 30% - at which point he would be required by French corporate law to make an offer for the whole group.

There is much speculation about the financier's motives, many believing he is gambling on making a killing if and when one or another of the global agency giants makes its play for the beleaguered French company.

Says de Pouzilhac: "Before talking about governance we should talk about [Bollore's] intentions. I have an industrial plan for this group. Does he agree with it or not? I'm waiting for a reply."

De Pouzilhac also insists that contrary to received wisdom [largely propagated by the financial mafia], Havas can survive and prosper as a standalone entity. It is planning a joint media buying venture that will add muscle in certain European countries - notably Italy and the UK.

He has also undertaken a whistlestop tour of the group's major global clients: "I've been comforted by [their] reaction," he says.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff