Seagram's heir shoots for stars

EDGAR BRONFMAN has stars in his eyes - Hollywood stars. The drinks mogul, chief executive of Seagram, the Canadian distiller, and heir to his family's multi-billion dollar fortune, has always fancied the entertainment business. He even married a starlet. But his box office record as a young producer was less than cosmic. "The only thing Edgar Bronfman proved in Hollywood is that he can't make films," said one industry analyst.

So Mr Bronfman's decision last week to sell Seagram's cash-generating 25 per cent stake in Du Pont, the chemicals company, for $8.8bn (£5.5bn), and use the proceeds to buy 80 per cent of media giant MCA is raising eyebrows in the US investment community. The steady flow of dividends from Du Pont financed the liquor group's move upmarket, paying for acquisitions such as Martell, a French cognac maker, and Tropicana Products, a US fruit juice company. Chemicals may not be exciting, but they are predictable.

The movie and music business is the exact oposite. Seagram is boarding MCA just as its senior officers are abandoning ship. The company's Universal Studio made a mark for itself with hits such as Jaws and Jurassic Park. But the director responsible for those blockbusters, Stephen Spielberg, has now defected to help form rival DreamWorks with David Geffen, the music potentate, and Walt Disney animator Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Universal's veteran producers, Lew Wasserman and Sidney Sheinberg, are also expected to depart shortly. Mr Bronfman may well replace them with his friend Michael Ovitz, the head of Creative Artists Agency, the powerful representative of actors, writers and directors, who is eager to run a big studio.

Notwithstanding some critical film successes and a stable of hot country music performers, MCA has been a disappointment for its current owner, Matsushita. The company is letting MCA go for just $7bn, a loss of $3bn in 1995 dollars. The question now is whether Mr Bronfman can do any better.

Critics who see him as a dilettante view his latest foray into entertainment as an expensive indulgence. After an lite Hollywood bash recently one insider commented that Mr Bronfman "loves being in that crowd - it was a great aphrodisiac for him". Doing business with Tinsel Town's sharks is a different matter, though. His last big Hollywood deal, buying a 15 per cent share of Time Warner for $2bn, produced nothing but red ink. The media company lost $104m last year.

But the 39-year-old mogul shrugs off such complaints. "I am rich by most people's standards," he told Canadian Business Magazine. "But I don't think having money prevents you from having ability, as my father and many others have demonstrated." Despite the losses at Time Warner he insists his top priority is to generate shareholder value; an obvious one considering Seagram is 36.4 per cent owned by him and his relatives.

Mr Bronfman's performance will be measured against those of his father and grandfather. Samuel Bronfman, the son of a Jewish immigrant, founded the business in the 1920s, shipping whisky from Canada to US bootleggers during Prohibition.

Edgar Bronfman Sr expanded the company into oil and gas and then chemicals. He also toyed with Hollywood, buying a 15 per cent stake in Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer in the 1960s and merging it with Time. But he sold out to Kirk Kerkorian, the corporate raider, in 1968.

His son is something of a rebel. Before he left high school he had made his first film, The Blockhouse, a stark Second World War drama. But he incurred his father's wrath for skipping university to go straight to Hollywood.

Even so, Mr Bronfman was eagerly welcomed back to Seagram after his 1980 film with Jack Nicholson, The Border, flopped. He rose quickly, and had soon surplanted his older brother, Samuel, as heir apparent. His training began in earnest when he was sent to Europe in 1982 to help Ed McDonnell restructure the company's chaotic business there. Two years later he took over the US operation, cutting the workforce by 55 per cent.

Since 1989 he has been president, and last June he became chief executive, although his father and uncle, Seagram's joint chairmen, keep a close eye on him. After last week's purchase, the parental gaze will be even more focused on Edgar Junior.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 busi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

Reach Volunteering: Trustees with Finance, Fundraising and IT skills

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses reimbursable: Reach Volunteering: St...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent