Top finance exec exits as combo stock bows

The first day of stock-market trading for the newly created Vivendi Universal also marked the initial executive departure from the newly created multinational as exec VP-chief financial officer Brian Mulligan ankled for unspecified greener pastures.

Only one year into a five-year contract, Mulligan will get a healthy severance payout. His base salary and minimum guaranteed bonus amounted to $1.75 million a year, plus substantial stock options.

Mulligan, 40, was considered a close confidant of Edgar Bronfman Jr., who’s now relegated to a No. 2 role at the conglom. Bronfman-topped Seagram, Universal’s former parent company, has officially been taken over by French-based Vivendi after shareholder votes including Friday’s approval by investors in Vivendi affiliate Canal Plus.

If Mulligan’s close association with Bronfman became a liability, it’s also believed Mulligan was underwhelmed by the prospect of frequent travel to Vivendi headquarters in Paris or the need to move his family to New York, where Vivendi Universal will maintain a U.S. corporate base. When elevated from a top financial post at Universal to Seagram exec VP-chief financial officer in January, Mulligan moved his primary office to New York, but his family had remained behind and he kept another office on the Universal lot.

In his previous role at Universal Pictures, Mulligan had shared co-chairman rank with now-chairman Stacey Snider. Most observers considered him a financial specialist complementing Snider’s more creative-oriented skill set.

Since assuming the U Pictures reins solo, Snider has seen her reputation greatly enhanced by the studio’s recent boffo box office. But Mulligan faced the prospect of a French CFO — Guillaume Hannezo, 39 — coming along with the Vivendi takeover and effectively undermining his corporate mandate.

“My focus over the last six months has been getting this deal done, which has been quite an accomplishment given its complexity,” Mulligan said. “But once it got done, the opportunity for me going forward didn’t seem well defined, and we have good people in place throughout the company. So those are the reasons for my leaving.”

Going operational

Mulligan said he’s going to investigate a variety of opportunities in entertainment. But whether in film, TV, music or some broader combo, Mulligan said he prefers an operational post rather than another financial position. “I’ve received several calls, but I haven’t really pursued them aggressively,” he said.

Mulligan was upped to Universal Pictures co-chairman in June 1999 after serving as exec VP of operations at U since October 1998. He joined the studio in 1990 after a stint at accounting giant Price Waterhouse.

Meanwhile, U.S.-listed shares in the new Vivendi Universal traded up $1.88, or 3%, to close at $65 in trading more than 12 times the volume for Seagram previously on the New York Stock Exchange. Vivendi shares dipped a bit in the first day of trading on the French Bourse after the $40 billion merger with Universal.

Stock option plans

Separately Monday, directors of the conglom– which now has fully morphed from a French water utility into a media powerhouse– approved a pair of stock options plans. One is aimed at top managers and another is for 3,000 additional employees.

Soon, the Vivendi board will consider bids on the former Seagram liquor and wine operations. Offers are expected to $7 billion.

Three members of the Bronfman clan– Edgar, Charles and Edgar Jr. — were among new members named to the Vivendi Universal board. Eight of 20 directors are now non-French nationals, and 14 are independent board members.

Execs staged a lavish party Monday night in Paris to toast the birth of Vivendi Universal. Corporate VIPs on hand included Vivendi Universal chairman Jean-Marie Messier, Bronfman and Universal Studios prexy Ron Meyer, among others.

Messier posted a message to company employees on the home page of Vivendi Universal’s Intranet, hailing the launch of the new company.

“It is now our role to shape the human reality of our new company into a warm and lively place to work and excel,” Messier wrote. “You are the main wealth of Vivendi Universal. Each of you is a prime contributor in writing the new page of our common story.”

He also alluded to Vivendi U’s aim of marrying French-based wireless operations with Hollywood content.

“Together, we will create a new world where consumers, citizens of the new century, will be able to receive any form of information, entertainment and services that they choose every day,” Messier wrote. “Together, we will create a company that is multicultural and generously open to the world and its diversity. With the combination of all of your talents, we can be the preferred company of consumers, because we will become the global communication group most in line with tomorrow’s society.”

(Alison James in Paris and Jill Goldsmith contributed to this report.)

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