Vincent Bolloré. Picture: BLOOMBERG
Vincent Bolloré. Picture: BLOOMBERG

Paris — Billionaire Vincent Bolloré is opening a rift with LVMH’s CEO Bernard Arnault by unexpectedly siding with activist fund Amber Capital over Lagardère to seek representation at the board of the struggling media group.

The move represents a new turn of events in a months-long battle triggered by Amber over Lagardère’s governance, led by the embattled group’s founder heir, Arnaud Lagardère.

Vivendi’s top investor Bolloré is throwing the 23.5% of share capital the media conglomerate owns in Lagardère behind Amber’s 20% stake by signing a pact with the investment firm to demand four of the nine supervisory board seats at Lagardère — three for Amber, one for Vivendi.

The two groups will call for a new general meeting “as soon as possible”, a spokesperson for Amber said. A source close to the matter said such a meeting may take place in September.

The five-year pact, which includes a reciprocal right to pre-emptively buy the shares each company owns in Lagardère if one of the two were to sell, represents a departure from Bolloré’s previous position of full support for Arnaud Lagardère.

Both have said they are friends.

Before Lagardère’s last general meeting in May, Bolloré joined other members of the French business elite to successfully fend off Amber’s attempt to shake up Lagardère’s commandite, a kind of limited partnership that allows Arnaud Lagardère to lead the group with only 7% of the shares.

Soon after Amber was defeated, Arnault made the surprise move to buy 25% of Arnaud Lagardère’s family office, bolstering up the heir’s finances and giving him greater sway over the commandite. Yet Amber and Bolloré will seek to get rid of the protective partnership, a source close to the matter said.

“The commandite is an aberrant management system, which is tolerable in good times but much harder to tolerate in bad times,” one source close to the matter said.

Vivendi insisted on Lagardère’s “poor results” to explain its decision to side with Amber. “All we know is that the results are very, very bad and we need a change,” a spokesperson for Vivendi said.

Lagardère, which owns France’s biggest publishing group, posted a first-half loss of €481m and a sharp drop in revenue.

Asked whether Bolloré’s move pitted him against Arnault, France’s richest man, LVMH and Lagardère declined to comment. They also declined to comment on the Amber-Vivendi joint announcement.

Reuters

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