Messier Guillotined!

02 July 2002

Tuesday’s edition of Le Figaro reports that Jean-Marie Messier (45), chairman and chief executive of Vivendi Universal, has agreed to resign from the board of the world’s second largest media group.

Exactly one week ago, a “solid majority” of Vivendi’s board backed Messier – known not entirely unaffectionately to the French as J6M (Jean Marie Messier, Moi Meme Maitre du Monde) – with a vote of confidence [WAMN: 26-Jun-02].

Messier was reportedly negotiating the terms of his departure late last evening – an event that some say will lead to the dissolution of the utilities-to-entertainment conglomerate, never a mix that made sense on the western side of the pond. As one onlooker put it: “hubris among the debris”.

The call for Messier’s head had been made on several occasions by Vivendi’s five North American directors, notably former vice-chairman Edgar Bronfman Jnr whose former Seagram empire (along with Universal Studios) was acquired by Vivendi in 2000.

When Bronfman decided to quit as vice-chair last year, Messier commented: “I’ve told Edgar several times in the past few weeks, ‘I’m going to miss you.’ The relationship between us was perfect. He’s a very likeable guy.”

But the lever of the guillotine was finally pulled not by Bronfman and his associates but by two French banks, Société Générale and BNP Paribas, which refused to make further loans to the cash-strapped group whose share price has been in freefall over the last few months.

Despite Vivendi’s recent travails, the true irony of the situation according to Merrill Lynch London media analyst Neil Blackley is that “this is the only media company we have not had to downgrade in the last couple of years”. Added the entrail-raker: “The profit and loss account has been the most reliable in the industry. It is the balance sheet that has been such an unmitigated disaster.”

Data sourced from multiple publications; additional content by WARC staff