Billionaire Bollore Rules Out Candidacy as Vivendi Seeks CEO

Vincent Bollore, the French billionaire who is Vivendi SA’s biggest shareholder, said he isn’t seeking a paying position at the company, leaving the French conglomerate to look for other candidates to fill the top job as it reorganizes assets around media business.

While Bollore is closely watching possible changes to Vivendi’s board and management committee, “he himself is not seeking a post or pay within the Vivendi group,” his company said yesterday. He was among candidates for the CEO job, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

Finding a fresh face to lead Vivendi is one of the tasks Chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou is seeking to complete before he retires -- a move expected in about a year, one of the people said. Vivendi’s corporate governance and nominating committee, whose six members include Bollore, is scheduled to meet today.

Asset sales have helped 74-year-old Fourtou make good on a promise to overhaul Vivendi. In the past quarter, the Paris-based company agreed to cut its holding in video-games maker Activision Blizzard Inc. and entered exclusive talks to dispose of a controlling stake in Maroc Telecom SA to Emirates Telecommunications Corp.

Vivendi has also hired a headhunter to identify potential successors to CEO Jean-Francois Dubos, who stepped in after former Chief Jean-Bernard Levy was removed in June last year.

A Vivendi representative declined to comment on Bollore’s statement and progress for its CEO search.

Ports, Autos

Les Echos newspaper reported on Sept. 7 that Thomas Rabe, the CEO of Germany’s Bertelsmann AG, was picked as a candidate by Vivendi’s headhunter. In a statement, Bertelsmann said Rabe isn’t available for other jobs.

Bollore, 61, has been building up a stake of about 5 percent in Vivendi. The holding is valued at 1.1 billion euros ($1.5 billion).

For years, investors have called for an overhaul of Vivendi’s holding company structure, which they say makes the stock trade at a discount to the value of the company’s assets. Even as the stock has rebounded about 40 percent from a nine-year low of 12 euros reached in April last year, it is still trading at 1.2 times book value, similar to 2008 levels, data compiled by Bloomberg showed.

The shares, which were little changed this year, fell 1.8 percent to 16.59 euros at 9:44 a.m. in Paris.

Net Debt

Bollore, who has stakes in businesses ranging from African ports to an electric-car sharing service in Paris, joined Vivendi’s supervisory committee in December after selling his television assets to the company.

Taking into account asset disposals including Maroc Telecom and Activision, Vivendi’s net debt will drop to 6.5 billion euros from 17.4 billion euros as of June 30, the company said last month.

For Vivendi, the decision to shift to media marked another chapter in the improbable transformation of a former water utility into a global media group. Former CEO Jean-Marie Messier embarked on a $77 billion acquisition spree in music, film and telecommunications before being pushed aside in a 2002 boardroom coup.

Levy, his successor, went on to reinforce Vivendi’s presence in telecommunications. Fourtou retook oversight of the company after Levy was removed.

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