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Vivendi Names Chief Financial Officer

Struggling media giant Vivendi Universal on Wednesday named Jacques Espinasse, head of a French satellite television channel, as its new chief financial officer.

He replaces Guillaume Hannezo, who was retained on a six-month contract as a special adviser to Vivendi’s new chairman and chief executive officer, Jean-Renee Fourtou, the company said. Hannezo left his post less than a week ago.

Espinasse, chief operation officer of French satellite television channel TPS, had been tipped as Hannezo’s most likely successor.

He joins the company at a critical time. Debt-ridden Vivendi is negotiating a second round of short-term financing with its creditor banks, vital for its survival.

Fourtou, who took over from Jean-Marie Messier earlier this month, is reviewing Vivendi’s strategy. Some have suggested the company could be dismantled as it seeks to lower its $17 billion debt through asset sales.

Espinasse, who holds an MBA from the University of Michigan, has held a number of senior management posts, including chief financial officer of the Havas group starting in 1985 and senior executive vice president of Havas when it was privatized in 1987.

Messier left Vivendi amid fierce criticism of his strategy. He had made a string of expensive acquisitions to transform Vivendi, once a water company, into a media and entertainment giant. The spending spree gave Vivendi the biggest debt load in French corporate history, ultimately causing investors to flee and Vivendi shares to drop about 75 percent this year.

After his appointment July 3, Fourtou, a 63-year-old vice chairman at the pharmaceutical giant Aventis, told employees at Vivendi’s Paris headquarters that he would draw up a financial restructuring plan by September.

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