PARIS — What was Jean-Marie Messier’s biggest mistake? The ex-CEO and prexy of Vivendi Universal forgot his manners — something the French take very seriously.
Maybe worse: Messier started acting like (sacre bleu!) an American.
He wrote his autobiography –before he even turned 50. He gave a self-serving Vanity Fair interview, bought a multimillion-dollar Manhattan apartment and served on U.S. boards (thus contributing to American culture). And he seemed to enjoy his nickname of “master of the world.”
“France is a country that doesn’t like people who stick out that much,” says Polly Platt, the ex-pat American author of “French or Foe?””In France, a hidden life is a happy life.”
When Vivendi and Universal merged, Platt was asked to instruct the org’s top 200 execs in L.A. and Paris on the subtleties of cultural co-existence.
The idea of Americans becoming more French was magnifique. But Gauls were galled at being asked to become Yankee poodle dandies.
Coca-Cola and Woody Allen are one thing, but this was too much to ask.
However, the planned seminars were never implemented, leaving American execs peeved about not receiving praise from their French bosses and the French appalled at the attempted introduction of America’s back-slapping business culture.
The French value relationships between dealmakers more than the deal itself — “Business was a dirty word in France until 10 years ago,” says Platt — and ultimately, they tired of Messier’s deal-junkie mentality and megalomaniacal ways.
“He identified himself as the group,” producer Pierre Edelman tells Variety.
Claude Bebear (ironically, one of the only French businessman to succeed in dealings Stateside) ultimately got the Gallic business and political establishment behind Messier’s ouster on July 3.
He helped drive home the point that a French conglom run by someone who acted American was un horreur. Worse, still, would be having it actually run by Americans.
Messier probably won’t even get the $18 million golden parachute he sought, a concept the French board members consider distastefully American.
Viv U’s new topper, the very French Jean-Rene Fourtou, must deal with a French probe into the conglom’s nearly incomprehensible financial structure — created, not surprisingly, in part by the application of U.S. accounting practices to the Gallic calculation of a company’s P&L.
Viv U said July 8 that it expects to resolve its cash problems “very shortly.” The following day, it secured a $993 million loan, and continues to negotiate with banks as the Commission des Operations des Bourse, the Gallic equivalent of the SEC, probes its books.