* Raider known for shrewd investments in struggling
* Havas, Vallourec among key past holdings
* Shares show little immediate impact
* Entry could presage media tilt at Vivendi
By Lionel Laurent and Leila Abboud
PARIS, Oct 16 French corporate raider Vincent
Bollore will join Vivendi's board after lifting his
stake to 5 percent, putting his restructuring skills at the
disposal of the ill-fitting media and telecoms conglomerate.
Vivendi is reviewing its disparate portfolio of businesses
in a bid to boost its stock price, which has hovered at decade
lows this year, and cut its 14.1 billion euro ($18.2 billion)
Although the group insists it is in no hurry to make
decisions on its future, it has also said there are "no taboos",
so selling assets such as Brazilian telco GVT and video games
maker Activision Blizzard or carving up the group in
some other way could all be on the table.
The arrival of billionaire Bollore, known for his shrewd
investments in struggling companies such as ad agency Havas
and industrial tube maker Vallourec, will
raise investor hopes he can apply his magic to Vivendi, which
has struggled to fix on a strategy since a debt-fuelled buying
binge under former CEO Jean-Marie Messier almost drove it to
bankruptcy a decade ago.
The Bollore Group said on Tuesday that it held 66
million shares, or 5.01 percent of Vivendi, on Oct. 10, making
it the group's largest shareholder. That's up from the 4.41
percent Bollore owned after the sale of its Direct 8 and Direct
Star television chains to Vivendi on Sept. 27.
Vivendi Chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou said the group would now
propose that Bollore join the supervisory board, a move expected
since Vivendi's shareholder meeting in April when Fourtou said
he would welcome Bollore's presence on the board.
The two men now set to write the next chapter in Vivendi's
history have known each other for more than two decades as
members of France's small circle of business elite. The targets
of stake-building by Bollore have frequently seen their shares
benefit, although the immediate impact on Vivendi's stock price
WHEN TO SELL
Vivendi shares were up 0.7 percent, about in line with a 0.4
percent rise in the European telecoms sector. So far
this year the shares are down 3.4 percent, slightly
outperforming the sector.
"Bulls are likely to point to the growing influence of
Bollore as driving a shake-up of Vivendi," UBS analyst Polo Tang
said in a research note. "However, we believe disposals may
either take longer than expected to achieve or that prices may
be lower than expected."
Bollore, 60, has had a long career as an activist investor
involved in industries including finance, media, energy and
transport, and is known for his tenacity, staying with Havas
despite a bumpy road for the share since he took control of the
He also has a nose for a timely exit.
"He's capable of knowing when to sell, when a stock has gone
up enough, as was the case with Vallourec," one Paris-based
banker said, referring to the car parts maker, which he mostly
sold out of last year, realising a 141 million-euro gain. Its
share price has more than halved since.
Even when Bollore doesn't get what he wants, he tends to
make money. Analysts long expected him to seek to merge Havas
with Aegis, another ad agency in which he owned a stake. Those
plans were thwarted by Aegis management, but Bollore eventually
doubled his investment, reaping a 450 million euro net gain when
Aegis was sold to Japan's Dentsu.
Bollore has also loomed large on the Italian financial
scene, where he heads up a group of foreign investors who
jointly own a 10.9 percent stake in investment bank Mediobanca
He remains vice chairman of insurer Generali,
where he for years has wielded outsize influence via his
Born in a Paris suburb, Bollore has often spoken of a
passion for Italy and its companies that most recently
manifested itself in an investment in car designer Pininfarina,
which in turn made and designed the electric cars used in
Bollore's burgeoning Paris car-sharing scheme, Autolib.
While Bollore's holdings have encompassed a wide range of
sectors, it is his focus on media that has fed speculation that
Fourtou aims to shed the conglomerate's telecoms assets and
focus on businesses like pay-TV operation Canal Plus and
Universal music group.
That could fit with a growing emphasis on media for Bollore,
who has already installed his son as CEO of Havas.
"The ultimate goal for Bollore is to build a communication
group that he will pass on to his children in about 10 years," a
source close to the raider said recently. "His kids have no
interest in the logistics traditional business, so his aim is to
grow in communication."