Vivendi's Largest Shareholder Withdraws CEO Bid

Vincent Bollore, who owns a stake of about 5 percent in the French media and telecom firm, opposed chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou's favored candidate.

A committee of Vivendi's board members met Wednesday to discuss possible successors for interim CEO Jean-Francois Dubos as the group's largest shareholder withdrew his bid for the post.

Vincent Bollore, who owns a stake of about 5 percent in the French media and telecom conglomerate and sits on its board, had clashed with chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou. A few days ago, he forced Fourtou's favored choice for the CEO role, Bertelsmann boss Thomas Rabe, to bow out of the race.

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Previously seen as a possible future chairman, Bollore even threw his own hat into the ring for the CEO post. But sources said Wednesday that he has now withdrawn that bid.

Bollore, in a statement cited in the reports, said that he would "stay vigilant about the future evolution of the management and the board."

A Vivendi spokesman didn't immediately comment on which CEO candidates the board was discussing Wednesday, how many were in contention and when a new CEO could be named.

Dubos, a close ally of Fourtou's, has run the group, which owns Universal Music Group, French pay TV giant Canal Plus and various telecom businesses, on an interim basis. He was appointed last year after the board forced out Jean-Bernard Levy amid strategic differences.

Citing a report in the Financial Times, UBS analyst Polo Tang wrote in an investor note Wednesday: "Bollore might be against a further break-up of the group -- this would disappoint investors seeking a spin-off of [French telecom firm] SFR."

He added: "Merging [ad agency giant] Havas (which Bollore controls) with Vivendi to create a French champion could also be an option. We see the latter scenario as less likely, but the news could be negative for investor sentiment."

Vivendi's stock is likely to remain mixed over the coming quarters, the analyst suggested. Hopes of stock buybacks after recently announced disposals could support the shares. "However, Bollore's intentions for Vivendi are unclear," and SFR estimates could come down further, Tang said.

Twitter: @georgszalai