Will Vincent’s victory upset Alain’s balance?

Were Jean-Marie Dru ever to tire of his position as chairman of TBWA Worldwide, he would not be short of offers. Just recently, he was connected with the top job at Publicis Groupe – a rumour soon scotched when the current incumbent, Maurice Lévy, bluntly announced that he intended to remain top dogfor at least the next five years. Now the rumour-mongers have changed tack. Is Dru one of the ‘présidentiables’ for Havas?

Though he’s vigorously denied it, he’s certainly a theoretical possibility as the next chairman and chief executive of the world’s sixth-largest marketing services empire. The present holder of nine years’ vintage, Alain de Pouzilhac, looks impossibly compromised by the events of the past week. His war of attrition with French tycoon Vincent Bolloré, who owns 20 per cent of the company, ended in a crushing defeat when shareholders voted Bolloré and three of his nominees onto the main board. Even de Pouzilhac’s collaborators resorted to some curiously ambivalent behaviour. Fernando Rodés Vila, for instance – an Havas shareholder and key representative of one of the jewels in Havas’ crown, MPG – managed to support de Pouzilhac and Bolloré simultaneously, though in fairness he voted against Bolloré’s three confederates. Worse has now followed. Bolloré has teamed up with Sebastian Holdings, Havas’s second-largest shareholder, giving him an unassailable 25 per cent of the company.

But if de Pouzilhac is history, who will follow him? Jacques Séguéla is one candidate. In his favour, he is internationally renowned (the S in Euro RSCG) and an esteemed protegé of Bolloré; he’s also 71. If Dru is ruled out, that most probably leaves an internal candidate, but not – as it happens – Séguéla. Stéphane Fouks, chief executive of Euro RSCG France, is a possibility. What really matters, however, are Bolloré’s true intentions for the marketing services group, and these remain clouded in mystery. Although he has a history of corporate raiding, Bolloré may on this occasion be engaged in a bit of ‘buy and build’. Certainly he has let it be known that he intends to build Havas as a ‘second force’ (behind Publicis) in France.

But what if Havas’ sickly recovery turns gangrenous? Then a break-up becomes much more likely, as the hard-nosed businessman that Bolloré undoubtedly is attempts to extract maximum ‘shareholder value’ from a tricky situation.

The ramifications of this curious outbreak of French shareholder democracy will not be lost on two leading UK players: Ben Langdon, UK chairman of Euro RSCG; and Mark Craze, newly elevated joint chief of MPG’s UK operations. Both were brought in to spearhead a turnaround. In Langdon’s case, there are early signs of success, mixed with a few reverses. For Craze, the immediate picture is less clear. MPG, despite being well-respected in France and Spain, has never achieved a similar success in the UK.

He need not worry too much, however. In the case of a break-up, MPG’s future seems assured. A glimpse of it may be seen in 2MV, the joint venture with WPP that is currently bidding for PSA’s media and planning accounts across Europe.

Stuart Smith, Editor

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