May 7, 2018 / 1:23 PM / 2 months ago

Telecom Italia seen reappointing Genish as CEO after Elliott win

* Fulvio Conti seen as front-runner to become chairman

* Elliott won battle to weaken Vivendi hold on board

* Board meeting due to start at 1500 GMT

By Agnieszka Flak

MILAN, May 7 (Reuters) - Telecom Italia (TIM) is expected to reappoint Amos Genish as its chief executive on Monday, as the phone group enters a new phase after activist fund Elliott wrestled board control from top shareholder Vivendi .

Elliott pulled off a boardroom coup at the former state monopoly on Friday, winning a shareholder vote to appoint 10 independent directors - or two-thirds of seats - to the board, loosening the grip of French media group Vivendi.

The new board will meet at 1500 GMT to name a CEO and chairman. Fulvio Conti, a former TIM manager and the first name on Elliott’s slate, is seen as front-runner to become chairman, sources close to the matter have said.

Previous executive chairman Arnaud de Puyfontaine - also Vivendi’s CEO - was one of the board members that resigned in March, triggering the full board reshuffle.

Though close to Vivendi, Genish is respected by Elliott, the Italian government and investors. The big question is whether the 58-year-old, who has been at the helm since September and presented a three-year business plan in March, will stay on.

“We believe this is in the interest of Vivendi as well as the market’s; hence, we are optimistic on his staying, at least in the short term, to test his fit with the new board,” Deutsche Bank, which has a ‘buy’ rating on the stock, said in a note.

Genish has said he will only continue if the new board backs his plan, which focuses on a digital transformation of the company, fixing its finances and getting back an investment grade credit rating.

Beyond asking for a governance shake-up, Elliott had called for the spin-off and partial sale of TIM’s soon-to-be-created network company, a conversion of savings shares, a return to dividends and potential asset sales - all moves TIM management had called premature, unfeasible and financially risky.

But recently the U.S. hedge fund has toned down its requests, saying it would be up to the new board and management to decide whether and when to carry out any such initiatives.

Genish sent a letter to managers after Friday’s vote, saying it had “not changed the direction in which we are travelling”.

The Israeli-born executive said he had since received calls from top executives at Elliott and Vivendi reaffirming their support of the current management team and its plan.

“I expect the new board to do the same when we meet on Monday. We are on the right path, with the right team and the right backing,” he wrote, according to a copy of the document reviewed by Reuters.

Elliott launched its campaign to loosen Vivendi’s grip over TIM in March. It built a stake of 9 percent to try to shake up the way Vivendi - which owns 24 percent - runs it.

Elliott accused Vivendi, backed by French tycoon Vincent Bollore, of serving its own interests, while the French group said Elliott was only after short-term financial gains.

After becoming a shareholder in 2015, Vivendi gradually tightened its grip on TIM, appointing the majority of its board last year - all in the name of Bollore’s stated ambition of building a southern European media powerhouse.

The hands-on approach led to friction with politicians in Rome, concerned about a nationally important asset.

Five of Vivendi’s candidates, including de Puyfontaine, will be on the board, so the two sides will have to find a way to work together to help the company slash debt and become more competitive.

Vivendi has said it will fight to ensure Elliott’s candidates “don’t push for the break-up of TIM”.

TIM shares were up 1.6 percent at 1300 GMT. The stock has gained nearly 20 percent since Elliott launched its campaign in early March. (Editing by Mark Potter)

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