Messier may be pushed into non-executive role at Vivendi

By Susie Mesure
Friday 13 December 2013 03:11

Jean-Marie Messier, the chairman of the embattled media group Vivendi Universal, will face a fresh attack on his position this week as senior directors push for an extraordinary meeting to curtail his power. The latest burst of pressure appears to be coming from the board's French directors, who have formerly backed their compatriot.

Weekend reports suggested that Mark Viérnot and Serge Tchuruk want to oust Mr Messier from his executive role, pushing him sideways into the new position of non-executive chairman. This would split the power of the self-styled "master of the board", improving the group's accountability to shareholders.

The move follows last week's departure of Bernard Arnault. The LVMH boss was once a key ally of Mr Messier and his exit was seen as undermining the Vivendi chairman's support, which has depended on the split between the board's five US members and eight European ones.

Vivendi's biggest shareholder, the Bronfman family, which acquired its stake in exchange for holdings in the Seagram conglomerate, is also understood to be anxious to call a meeting to demand that Mr Messier is sacked. The Bronfmans have seen the value of their stake slide by 67 per cent since Vivendi bought its Universal music and movies business in 2000.

The French chairman, who stands accused of recklessly buying assets at the top of the market, running up debts and failing to deliver on a strategy of media convergence, narrowly survived a vote of confidence last Tuesday. Possible candidates to replace Mr Messier include Edgar Bronfman Jr, the Seagram heir who sits on the board, Barry Diller, the former Paramount and Fox media executive who heads up Vivendi Universal Entertainment, or Eric Licoys, the chief operating officer.

Vivendi Environmental, the French utility giant, is exploring the possibility of selling part of Southern Water, which it bought last month for £2bn.

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