Messier’s Moolah Miracle: Post-Ousting 10% Pay Hike

04 April 2003

Jean-Marie Messier, the hubris-driven former chairman and chief executive of struggling Vivendi Universal, performed more than a few feats of fiscal prestidigitation during his controversial tenure – but none more impressive than that achieved in the wake of his ousting last summer!

Known to the French press as J6M (Jean-Marie Messier, Moi Meme Maitre du Monde), the jongleur extraordinaire was not only given the heave-ho by his ingrate board and shareholders, he was even denied the usual golden goodbye.

But despite the falling of the axe, according to Vivendi’s provisional annual report, with one waggle of his wand Messier managed to pay himself more moolah in 2002 – when he was summarily fired at the halfway point – than in the previous full year. Vivendi’s accounts for 2002 show Messier drawing $6.1 million (€6.53m; £4.18m), ten per cent more than the whole of 2001 for just six months butt-work.

Furthermore … cue drum roll … his 2001 paycheck was buttressed by a bonus equating to 250% of his annual salary as recognition for achieving the [then] largest-ever corporate loss in French history and resulting in a close encounter of the second kind with bankruptcy.

So how did J6M manage this feat? A Vivendi spokesperson was unable to explain his achievement. Some observers wonder if the emails disinterred last summer by the COB [Commission des Opérations des Bourse – the French fiscal regulator] probe into Vivendi's near-collapse might shed light on the matter?

These missives between Messier and Salustro Reydel – Vivendi’s accountants – suggest that pressure was brought to bear to ensure the blind-eye treatment of a complex but unspecified off-balance sheet transaction. This has been refuted by all concerned.

But Vivendi’s COB filing also discloses that the beancounters received €25m in fees during 2002, of which €6.6m related to services unconnected to audit. COB best practice guidelines for audit firms hold that no one client should represent more than 10% of annual income. In the case of Vivendi and Salustro Reydel, this figure is nearer to 17%.

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff