Viv U's chairman feels pressure for timely turnaround

Just how supportive the French members of Vivendi U’s board of governors will be of embattled chairman Jean-Marie Messier in coming months is an intriguing question.

Although Messier managed to win yet another confidence vote last week by the 15-member board of French and American directors, most observers believe many of the raised hands were wavering.

Those who clearly oppose keeping on the glib 43-year-old chairman include three representatives of the Bronfman family, who sold Seagrams to Vivendi two years ago for $34 billion in stock.

Since then, Viv U stock has fallen more than 60% to a 10-year low.

If the French could settle on another suitable candidate to succeed Messier, they just might oust him: That’s why the former investment banker-turned-conglom-builder is under intense pressure to make quick headway in paring down the company’s massive debt burden.

Most pundits believe the French board directors will not allow the company to be chaired by an American, even if that Yank were Barry Diller, who, thanks to a princely outlay for his services by Messier, now heads Viv U’s entertainment operations.

For his part, Messier continues to exude supreme self-confidence, telling a conference call June 26 that he’d be happy to stay on for another 15 years.

That came just two days after one of Messier’s strongest supporters on the board, LVMH chief exec Bernard Arnault, abruptly quit — ostensibly because he was miffed at Messier’s lack of consultation with the board on key issues.

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