He's moving into a $17.5 million Park Avenue condominium. And why not? There's no doubt that Jean-Marie Messier is a world-class mogul. In acquiring Seagram Co. last year, the indefatigable chief of France's Vivendi (V) created a global media conglomerate second only to AOL Time Warner (AOL). At 44, Messier now runs Vivendi Universal, a $55 billion empire including Universal Studios, Universal Music Group, and Europe's biggest pay-TV company, Canal+. And he just might acquire U.S. book company Houghton Mifflin.
It's impressive, especially since only five years ago, Vivendi was a financially ailing water utility. But Messier isn't resting yet. He vows to squeeze more value from Vivendi Universal's rich holdings by finding new ways to distribute them over the Internet. In May, he plunked down $327 million for online music site MP3.com (MPPP), and he has teamed up with Sony Corp. (SNE) to launch Duet, a service that will let paid subscribers download music onto computers or Web-enabled cell phones.
These moves could let Vivendi Universal snare some of the hordes of music buffs who until now have swapped files for free over renegade sites such as Napster. "Within just a few months, we will have music online, plus the security and ease of use that the consumers and artists demand," Messier promises. He has struck a deal with Yahoo! (YHOO) to make Duet available on its portal and hopes to expand cooperation with Yahoo to include paid downloading of other Vivendi Universal content. It's not all clear sailing: Messier's planned Europewide mobile Internet portal, Vizzavi, has been delayed because fast Web-enabled cell phones aren't yet on the market.
For now, investors aren't complaining. Vivendi Universal shares are up 5% this year, outperforming the media and telecommunication stock indexes. The company's media and telecom holdings posted 10% revenue growth during the first quarter, and Messier expects operating profits to rise 35% this year, as the company saves nearly $200 million on synergies from the Seagram deal. In the first quarter, operating profits more than doubled, to $795 million.
Certainly, Messier, a graduate of the Ecole National d'Administration, has proved his mettle as a manager. After successful stints in the French Finance Ministry and Lazard Freres & Co., he was tapped in 1996 to head conglomerate Compagnie Generale des Eaux, with holdings from utilities to real estate. Messier has turned that troubled company into today's Vivendi. With his fluent English--and now his Park Avenue pied a terre--look for this French dynamo to keep making waves on both sides of the Atlantic.