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Memo from Jean-Marie Messier

Your "Memo to Jean-Marie Messier" asks for hard numbers (International Business, Mar. 4). Look at 2001: +10% organic growth, +89% operating income, +2 billion euros of free cash flow. No need for further comment on the strength of our operations. They speak for themselves. Contrary to your assertion, not only do we publicly break out the numbers for Vivendi Environnement, but we are the only media group to break out operating free cash flow by operating division.

Regarding Cegetel, everyone knows that we own 44%, with a majority of voting shares and full board and operational control. We are therefore required to consolidate it. It is not our option. Vivendi Universal is also in line with its strategy. We had a weakness in U.S. distribution, and we seized two wonderful opportunities: the EchoStar Communications Corp. agreement and the acquisition of USA Networks' entertainment assets.

Finally, you "teased" me about New York being a "tough city." Over the last 20 years, during which time I have lived in and traveled to and from New York, I've learned that it can be a "tough city." However, it is also a fair one where the facts always end up being recognized and valued. That is why I am optimistic for Vivendi Universal.

Jean-Marie Messier

Chairman and CEO

Vivendi Universal

Paris "Can Sony regain the magic?" (Cover Story, Mar. 11) was timely. I just got an e-mail from Sony Corp. support saying it will not provide a computer driver to connect its CD1000 digital camera to Windows XP. Sony's more recent CD200 and CD300 cameras work with XP. I have two high-end Sony camcorders in addition to the high-end CD1000, but I hesitate to buy any more Sony products. Whether it is planned obsolescence or foolish frugality, it does not sit well with this customer.

Win Holtzman

Westminster, Calif.

You quote author Reiji Asakura as saying that over the next few years, "Sony will go up and down as it struggles to bridge the gap between the present and the networked future." Sony may be willing to wait for the networked future, but investors aren't. Sony should stop trying to sell high-tech gadgets that only a few people can enjoy [and focus on] products that everyone wants: video games, TVs, stereos, equipment, etc. Rosie the Robot will just have to wait.

Grady Smith

Arlington, Tex. "New drugs: Why so many delays?" (Science & Technology, Mar. 11) correctly points out that the process of drug development and approval is a complex one. However, I take serious issue with a quote attributed to me. I was not asked for my point of view about drug development, since it's not my area of expertise. The authors did choose to use--completely out of context--a remark I made during a meeting discussing consolidation in the biotech industry. I said that a pill that shrinks the egos of biotech CEOs would go a long way toward facilitating a consolidation. Clearly, I was not talking about the regulatory environment, as your article implied.

Tamar Howson

Senior Vice-President

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.

Princeton, N.J.

Nontoxic drugs, which are demonstrably less dangerous than the disease against which they are aimed, need to be genuinely fast-tracked and released to informed patients willing to assume the risk that the drugs have not gone through every proof and every bureaucratic obstacle that the agency can devise. Cancer patients such as my wife cannot wait.

Zachary Franks

Portland, Ore. Applying for early-decision admission merely requires an applicant to deliberate earlier, not for a shorter period ("Second thoughts on early decision," BusinessWeek Investor, Mar. 11). How many teenagers confront tough decisions before some deadline is imposed upon them, anyway? A student who is accepted via early decision will not be competing with his or her classmates. It is common for good students to collect college admissions letters like trophies, much to the detriment of their classmates. Finally, early-decision admission means less pressure from the college application process and more enjoyment of one's second semester of senior year in high school.

Reeve E. Chudd

Pacific Palisades, Calif. In Enron Corp.'s case, it was necessary to avoid paying taxes on income that never existed ("Tax dodging: Enron isn't alone," News: Analysis & Commentary, Mar. 4). Enron doesn't belong on your list of "big profits, low taxes." "No profit, no taxes" is more accurate. But just think how busy people were while digging one hole to fill another.

G. Thomas Fields

Indianapolis Lawrence H. Summers hopes to improve undergraduate education at Harvard University by persuading professors to spend more time with students ("Harvard," Cover Story, Feb. 18). He should look to liberal arts colleges such as Carleton, Ripon, and Kenyon as his models. They have mastered the personal approach to undergraduate education. They supply "wonderful citizens," people who continue the personal approach in their own careers, enhancing our everyday lives. Of course, these "wonderful citizens" did not run the seventh-largest corporation in America--Enron--but maybe they should have.

Andrew Dickson

Dundee, Ill. Robert J. Barro always has a way of bringing out the good points of things by critiquing them. In this case, his column underlined the best part of President Bush's State of the Union address, which was all about "volunteerism," by saying it was the worst part ("The State of the Union: Bush mostly got it right," Economic Viewpoint, Feb. 25). Barro's critique seems to allude to the fact that funds and time donated to nonprofit activities frequently miss their mark. Doesn't the Enron scandal show that funds contributed to business activity also may miss their mark?

Bob Milbrath

Assistant Professor of Accounting University of Houston


Volunteerism is an American tradition--a strength, not a weakness. The U.S.'s $10 trillion gross domestic product is not only the world's largest economy, but we are bigger than we appear because of no-cost and off-the-record volunteerism. Volunteerism contributes to the production side of the equation while adding nothing to the cost side. Pretty neat. Only a wealthy democracy can afford to accelerate its well-being through volunteerism.

Jack Moore

Lemon Grove, Calif. Regard "Harley investors may get a wobbly ride" (Finance, Feb. 11) Harley Davidson has never been the motorcycle for the most cost-conscious buyer, just the proudest.

Eric Park

Washington, Mo.

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