Edgar Bronfman Jr will step down as executive vice chairman of media giant Vivendi Universal next year, leaving flamboyant Frenchman Jean-Marie Messier solo at center stage.
Vivendi said on Thursday that Bronfman, head of Canada’s Seagram before it merged with France’s Vivendi last year, would step down at the end of the first quarter 2002, though he would remain non-executive vice chairman of the board.
“I deeply regret Edgar’s decision but fully understand his wishes,” Messier said in a statement. he said Bronfman was standing down to spend more time on his “personal and family interests.”
It was not clear whether Bronfman would be replaced or, if so, who a successor could be.
Bronfman, aged 45, said he had no plans to sell his family’s roughly three percent stake in Vivendi for at least a year, and said he would remain an active member of the board.
Vivendi shares showed little reaction to the news, and analysts said Bronfman’s departure should not upset the group’s management and it ended the risk of conflict at the helm.
Industry watchers have long speculated over the soft-spoken yet ambitious Bronfman’s willingness to play second fiddle to Messier, a self-styled rebel against French conservatism whose face has been splashed over magazine covers since he transformed a once cumbersome conglomerate into a global media powerhouse.
“I would consider this news quite positive given that it confirms Jean-Marie Messier as the only chief on board and it will avoid any potential managerial conflict,” said analyst Sylvie Sejournet at Fortis Securities in Paris.
She said the fact the Bronfman family will hold onto its Vivendi shares for the time being lifted any concerns of them dumping the stock on the market. “In any case, if they did want to sell, Vivendi has enough cash to buy them out,” she added.
BRONFMAN REMAINS KEY SHAREHOLDER
The Bronfman family, which formerly owned 20 percent of drinks and entertainment group Seagram, became the biggest shareholder in Vivendi Universal at its creation, with a 7.7 percent stake.
Last May, the family reduced its holding to 6.1 percent by selling 16.9 million shares to Vivendi Universal whose stake in itself consequently rose to 8.4 percent.
Bronfman’s pledge not to sell applied only to his three percent, and not to his uncle Charles Bronfman’s stake which makes up the rest of the family holding, the spokesman said.
“As a representative of the largest shareholder, I will remain focused on creating value and growth for all shareholders,” Bronfman said in the statement.
“Given all we have achieved, this is a good time for me to step back from my executive responsibilities and take some time to consider my next step. At this point I have no firm plans other than to remain an active and constructive board member.”
Vivendi shares were down 0.33 percent at 61.15 euros at 0932 GMT in Paris.
“Vivendi Universal originally had a European hub and a U.S. hub, but now that Messier is based in the United States, that made one chief too many for the group,” a second analyst said.
The merger made Vivendi Universal a global leader in music, publishing, television, film, telecoms and the Internet, with control of French TV group Canal Plus, and France’s number two mobile operator SFR as well as stakes in Internet provider AOL France and British pay-TV operator BSkyB.