Messier Biog Quotes Kipling, Settles Old Scores

18 November 2002

During his darkest days Jean-Marie Messier, fallen empire-builder of the 21st century, found solace in the words of the epitomous bard of late 19th century empire-building, Rudyard Kipling.

In his ‘autobiography’ Mon Vrai Journal (My True Diary), co-written with French journalist Yves Messarovitch, Messier tugs at readers’ heartstrings with a description of his reciting Kipling to his children in the days leading up to his ousting from Vivendi Universal .

“If you can make one heap of all your winnings / And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss / And lose, and start again at your beginnings / Which is more – you'll be a Man, my son!”

But what's happened to the rhyming, ask those familiar with Kipling’s enduring work? These pedants recall a fourth line omitted in Messier’s recounting: “And never breathe a word about your loss.

The Messier saga recounts a Machivellian boardroom plot against him orchestrated by members of the Canuck clan Bronfman, former controllers of the Seagram Company, which in 2000 they sold to Vivendi for $34 billion.

Less than a year ago, at a time when Messier was still riding high, he displayed an unwittingly prescience about the man he now claims – among others – to have been his Nemesis: Edgar Bronfman Junior.

When in December 2001, Bronfman resigned as deputy-chairman at Vivendi, Messier proclaimed: “The relationship between us was perfect. He’s a very likeable guy. It’s never easy to go from being number one to not being number one anymore.” [WAMN: 07-Dec-01].

Messier also sees French insurance tycoon Claude Bébéar as the eminence gris in his downfall, portraying him as one of the grand puppeteers of French capitalism. Bébéar, an avid slaughterer of wild animals, is not only “an institution,” writes Messier, “but also a great hunter of big cats — and not only in Africa.” He adds ruefully: “I would soon [come to] notice that.”

Although Messier lashes out every which way at those he deems responsible for his ousting, he is candid about his own shortcomings and acknowledges he made a number of serious errors while at Vivendi’s helm.

Among these he cites his failure to exit the original water and waste-disposal businesses; undue delay in implementing unpopular changes at the lossmaking Canal Plus TV and film unit; neglecting relations with French politicians; and overdosing on self-promotion.

Describing the maelstrom that swamped Vivendi as the technology bubble burst and the cash drained away, Messier is graphic: “I felt like I was running a race, at once sprint and marathon, in the midst of an earthquake," he says. “A coalition of very different interests profited from this difficult moment to push me toward the door.”

He is, however, adamant, that he remained within the law at all times during his term as chairman. Insisting that the company was no Enron or WorldCom, Messier writes: “Vivendi was a victim of economic ups and downs, of management choice, but not of ruses or illegalities.”

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff