Hot on the heels of Gerald Levin’s announcement he is to retire from AOL Time Warner [WAMN: 06-Dec-01], another top executive has decided to walk out on a global media giant – this time it is Edgar Bronfman Jr, stepping down as vice-chairman of Vivendi Universal.

Bronfman was the chairman of family firm Seagram, succeeding his father in 1994. His controversial period in charge included moving the firm into showbusiness, with the purchases of the McA/Universal Hollywood studio and music and film group Polygram. This shift was funded by the sale of Seagram’s stake in chemicals group DuPont, whose shares rocketed soon after, costing the Bronfman family $10 billion.

Bronfman also oversaw the sale of Seagram’s spirits portfolio and the takeover by French group Vivendi last year. His role at the merged company was not clear, though he was involved in the group’s music and online businesses.

He will step down at the end of the first quarter, retaining a seat on Vivendi Universal’s board with the title non-executive vice-chairman. He also vowed not to sell his 3% stake in the merged company until at least 2003, though this does not apply to the separate 3% held by his uncle Charles Bronfman.

His decision hands further power to chairman Jean-Marie Messier, who enjoyed a warm relationship with Bronfman. “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,” he declared, but admitted it may have been hard to drop from chairman at Seagram to vice-chairman at Vivendi: “It’s never easy to go from being number one to not being number one anymore.”

Bronfman revealed he wanted to take charge of his own company: “I would like to have a broader challenge to build and grow my own enterprise. I’m still only 46 years old,” he stated, adding that he had no specific plans at the moment.

Separately, Messier revealed Vivendi was mulling a partnership between its pay-TV unit Canal Plus and Liberty Media, the John Malone-controlled US cable group with burgeoning European interests.

“I think the best strategic outcome in Europe today would be to find a business alliance between Canal Plus and John Malone,” Messier told a conference in New York. “Those two groups and sets of assets are complementary.”

Liberty is in the process of purchasing a hefty chunk of Germany’s cable-TV network from Deutsche Telekom, and controls the continent’s leading cable operator United Pan-Europe Communications.

News source: Financial Times