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Following unconfirmed reports last week that French corporate raider Vincent Bolloré has built a significant 16% stake in takeover-vulnerable agency holding company Havas [WAMN 07-Oct-04], the money man conceded to Paris daily Le Figaro that this is indeed the case.
But his intentions remain unclear. Only a fool shows his poker hand to rivals – and Bolloré is certainly no fool . Groupe Bolloré owns substantial stakes in Italian bank Mediobanca and French payment systems operator Ingenico, plus holdings in the shipping and logistics industries.
But why the carefully amassed stake in Havas? "From time to time the group has a little spare cash we can put to use in the stock market," Bolloré says airily. That's one way of describing the investment strategies of one of Europe's most spectacularly profitable corporate raiders.
Another is that it's got personal. The cool and calculating businessman was strongly opposed to Havas's unsuccessful bid for Grey Global Group, seeing it as too financially risky – and he is said not to have taken kindly to his 'advice' being ignored by Havas chairman/ceo Alain de Pouzilhac.
In the wake of that unsuccessful bid, it may be that Bolloré is determined to call the shots if and when Havas itself becomes the target for a predator.
"We have become [Havas'] leading shareholder with the intention of remaining so and, unless there is an external offer provoked by the current uncertainty, we intend to remain in this group for a long time," Bolloré told Le Figaro.
"The proof is that we have continued to increase our stake to hold a bit more than 16% today. We can increase our stake in its capital, and will do it according to our means, the stock price and the external situation."
One potential bidder, Publicis Groupe's chairman/ceo Maurice Lévy, said on French radio at the weekend that his preference is for Havas to remain independent – implying he will not make a move.
Unless, of course, a certain agency baronet starts rustling crisp £10 notes from the white Cliffs of Dover.
Bolloré Again Raises Havas Stake, Now Holds 20.1%
AdWeek (USA) and the Financial Times both report Wednesday morning that French corporate raider Vincent Bolloré announced an increase in his already significant 16% stake in Havas to 20.1%. He refused further comment.
It also emerged from ‘sources close to the parties’ that Omnicom has been sounded out as to acquiring part or all of the Paris-headquartered marketing services group. The US group reportedly indicated zero interest. Chief executive John Wren refused to comment, as did Havas ceo Alain de Pouzilhac.
Data sourced from MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff