Havas Conqueror Versus Saatchi Victor in Battle for Aegis

11 August 2005

The Mother of all battles could be brewing for the hand of Aegis Group, the London-headquartered media and market research multinational.

Following last week's announcement by Vincent Bolloré, the conqueror and new chairman of Havas, that he had built a 6% stake in Aegis [WAMN: 05-Aug-05], who should awaken from slumber, like a Windy City King Arthur, to defend Aegis' from the French foe, but Chicago fund manager David Herro.

Yes, that David Herro. He who in December 1994 vanquished and banished the brothers Saatchi, Maurice and Charles, from their eponymous advertising agency.

Herro, chief investment officer of international equities for Harris Associates, is top gun at Aegis' largest single shareholder. He insists he will oppose any attempt by the French corporate raider to seize control of the UK agency group by any tactic other than a fullscale takeover bid..

Bolloré's intervention, says Herro, "raises concerns for us". But those "concerns" are not for Aegis' staff or clientele - simply that the Frenchman might take control of the company by replicating his conquest of Havas.

In other words, without paying the premium that a full takeover would incur.

Admits the Chicago sharecropper: "My fear would be that maybe they [Aegis management] try to cut a deal with Bolloré or they let him have a disproportionate say. Anything not aboveboard isn't going to go unanswered. Either you make a bid or you don't."

Along with 99.9% of all French citizen during August, Bolloré is on vacation and unavailable for commen. However, his spokesman Olivier Labesse airily dismissed Herro's concerns about Bolloré's intentions.

Disappointingly failing to preface his denial with an archetypal Gallic "pouf", Labesse declared: "There is no question of [Bolloré] taking any control. He has only got 6% and he is not moving at the moment. We have the right to take 6%. We are in the free world."

Aegis, meantime, decided to play it cool. "We totally understand and are not surprised by Harris's comments," said a company spokesman. "Indeed, under UK corporate governance you would not expect management to allow a minority shareholder to exercise corporate control unless they are making a full offer for the group at 30%."

Harris holds 10.34% of Aegis stock, outgunning Bolloré's six percent. Furthermore, Herro claims he can call on the support of Aegis' second largest investor Fidelity Investments, owner of 8.88% of the group.

Bye-bye Bolloré?

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