Vivendi Names Charlier SFR Head to Split CEO, Chairman Roles

Vivendi SA moved its telecommunications chief Jean-Yves Charlier to SFR, bolstering leadership at the French mobile-phone unit ahead of a possible initial public offering.

Splitting the CEO and chairman roles at SFR, Paris-based Vivendi named Charlier, 49, to take over from Stephane Roussel and lead a six-person executive committee. Roussel will become the unit’s chairman, SFR said yesterday.

Charlier’s move, the latest in a series of management changes since former Vivendi CEO Jean-Bernard Levy was ousted in June, leaves Chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou and CEO Jean-Francois Dubos to execute on plans to refocus Vivendi’s business on media and away from telecommunications.

“Reinforcing governance will allow us to better face the challenges,” Charlier wrote in a message to employees. “These changes will give us the impulse necessary to further adapt SFR to its new competitive context.”

Charlier, a former CEO at Promethean World Plc, which makes electronic equipment for classrooms, in August was asked to oversee all of Vivendi’s telecommunications assets -- SFR, Brazilian broadband provider GVT and Maroc Telecom SA. Since then, Vivendi has halted a planned sale of the GVT. It is evaluating two bids for its 53 percent stake in Maroc Telecom, Morocco’s biggest phone company.

Vivendi dropped 1.3 percent to 15.40 euros at 9:21 a.m. in Paris. The shares fell 7.9 percent this year through yesterday, trimming the company’s market value to 20.7 billion euros ($26.6 billion).

‘New Context’

An initial public offering of SFR, the telecommunications-to-media company’s biggest division, is an option, though not in the near term, Vivendi’s Finance Chief, Philippe Capron, said last month. Business at the unit must first be strengthened, he said.

Both Roussel and Charlier described the change as a “reinforcement” of the management team at SFR, according to internal messages to employees. Transforming SFR faster will be the goal for the coming months, the executives wrote yesterday.

SFR ranks as France’s second-largest mobile-phone company behind France Telecom SA. Last quarter, revenue slumped 11 percent to 2.6 billion euros while earnings before interest, taxes and amortization fell 42 percent.

Despite cutting prices and revamping its offers, SFR has struggled to stop clients from defecting to discounter Iliad SA, which last year began selling mobile subscriptions starting at 2 euros per month.

Under Roussel, SFR executed plans to simplify its structure and cut jobs. Measures to reduce operating expenses are on track to generate about 500 million euros in savings by the end of 2014, Vivendi said this month.

Maroc Sale

More than a year after Chairman Fourtou promised shareholders a “no-taboo” strategy review to reorganize Vivendi’s structure, investors are still waiting for proof that management is committed to a revamp.

Emirates Telecommunications Corp. and QSC Qatar Telecom last month submitted binding offers for Vivendi’s share of Maroc Telecom. While Vivendi wants as much as 5 billion euros for the holding, according to one person briefed on the matter, a more realistic target would be in the range of 4 billion euros to 4.5 billion euros, two other people with knowledge of the sale have said. The stake has a market value of $5.9 billion. A deal is targeted for completion by October, people familiar with the matter have said.

Vivendi also owns Universal Music Group, video-game publisher Activision Blizzard Inc. and French pay-television company Canal Plus.

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