Messier: the all-American Frenchman

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The Independent Online

Jean-Marie Messier, the head of French media giant Vivendi, is to spend half his time in the US in what is widely seen as a significant shift away from the company's traditional home in Europe.

It is the latest twist in the firm's growing love affair with the US. Eventually around half of Vivendi's revenues are expected to come from America.

In the past few months the company has sold, or made plans to sell, many of its European assets while it buys up US companies.

Mr Messier has now bought an apartment in New York for a rumoured £12m and has also joined the board of the New York Stock Exchange. "Messier wants to turn Vivendi into a US company; sometimes you even catch him referring to it as a US company. But then his annual report is only in French," said one analyst, who did not want to be named.

Mr Messier is admired for turning a hulking, statecontrolled utility company, then called Générale des Eaux, into the media company it is today.

But privately, analysts are concerned about the US acquisitions. "I think Messier is totally obsessed by being part of the US media scene ... but I'm not sure some of the staff are happy about this idea that all things great are American while European stuff is being neglected," said one analyst.

Vivendi is in the process of selling its business publishing arm, which produces mainly French publications and stages events, to fund its US spending spree. Possible bidders include Pearson, the media company which owns The Financial Times, and Reed Elsevier, the Anglo-Dutch publisher.

Last week Vivendi sold its 9.9 per cent stake in France's Havas Advertising for 453 million euros (£280m).In the US, earlier this month, it paid $2.2bn (£1.6bn) for Houghton Mifflin, making it the second-largest educational publisher in the world. And Mr Messier is rumoured to be in talks to swap Vivendi's stake in BSkyB with US cable tycoon John Malone for a larger stake in USA Networks.

The practice of buying in the US and selling on this side of the Atlantic started last year when Vivendi merged with Seagram, which owned Universal Studios. At the same time Vivendi sold off just over half of Canal Plus, the French pay-television operator.

It also floated off part of its utility operation, Vivendi Environment, which owns train-operating company Connex.

"Mr Messier will be integrating the US acquisitions as well as the music and film businesses with the other telecoms service providers and Canal Plus," said a Vivendi spokesperson. "He will devote as much time as necessary in Europe or over in the USA."