Vivendi Universal directors yesterday (Wednesday) grilled chief executive Jean-Marie Messier, voicing their concern at the group’s dire stock performance, its burgeoning debt mountain, and strategic aimlessness.

It is understood that Messier had a bumpy ride at the eight-and-a-half-hour New York board meeting – especially at the hands of the Bronfman family trio, former owners of Universal who remain on the Vivendi board and hold around six percent of the group’s stock. They are less than euphoric at the recent sharp decline in the value of their shares.

Messier’s head had also been demanded by other major shareholders and a number of senior French business figures and politicians. But at the conclusion of the meeting, the Messier cranium remained firmly connected to his torso – to the disappointment of some present, it is said.

The board also rejected Messier’s demand to convene another shareholder meeting after the alleged “fraudulent manipulation” of the electronic voting system at a tumultuous session in Paris last month [WAMN: 29-Apr-02] - a slap in the face for the ceo who had hoped that a second meeting might reverse a number of decisions that did not go his way.

The board, however, did approve Messier's proposal to set-up a new committee to oversee the group’s corporate governance. It will be headed by a double act: Vivendi vice chairman Edgar Bronfman Junior and Marc Viénot, chairman of the board’s audit committee and quondam chairman of French financial colossus Société Générale. The committee’s other members were not named.

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