Vivendi staffers buy into the company

Move seen as vote of confidence

PARIS — Nearly 10,000 employees have participated in media conglom Vivendi’s annual capital increase, buying a record 12.3 million new shares for €126.9 million ($155.6 million), nearly 1% of the company’s total capital.

Employees now own close to a 3.4% stake in Vivendi, which collectively makes them the fourth largest shareholder of the firm.

The staffers’ support comes as good news for Vivendi, whose CEO Jean-Bernard Levy ankled last month after disagreement with the board over strategy — particularly the $9.5 billion acquisition of telco SFR, which has been seriously hit by the launch of rival telco Illiad’s low-cost mobile service in January.

Levy has been replaced by Jean-Francois Dubos, Vivendi’s general counsel. Although Dubos’ appointment was described as temporary by press reports, Vivendi has yet to state if and when Dubos will be replaced.

Vivendi was also recently fined $950 million by Manhattan federal court for its 2002 purchase of USA Networks from Liberty Media, an acquisition put through with Vivendi’s shares, which rapidly lost value under former topper Jean-Marie Messier.

The staffers’ share buy illustrates “how much confidence employees have in Vivendi’s business and its growth prospects amid a difficult economic background,” said a spokesperson for the firm.

Vivendi will also allocate 50 bonus shares to 16,000 staffers of its subsidiaries: SFR, paybox Canal Plus Group and Universal Music France and their respective subsids as well as VME-Zaoza (Vivendi Mobile Entertainment), online ticket sales company Digitick and online consulting platform Wengo.

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