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26/06/2002

Under-pressure Vivendi chief survives crunch meeting

Vivendi Universal's controversial chief executive Jean-Marie Messier has defied the rumour mill and maintained his position following a showdown board meeting on Tuesday.
It has been a difficult week for the Vivendi boss as he clings on to his post in spite of losing a key ally on the board – Bernard Arnault. Mr Arnault's resignation, only hours before the board came together, heaped more pressure on Messier as he was the second high-profile board member to part company with Vivendi in two weeks after Adecco's former chairman Philippe Foriel-Destezet resigned. That brings to five the number of board members to leave since the start of the year.
The meeting in Paris on Tuesday followed a calamitous day for the company on the stock market on Monday, which saw 23% shaved off the share price. However, 24 hours later Vivendi shares rallied to recoup 7% of that loss.
The flux in share price was precipitated by the company's announcement last week to release its holdings in water utility unit Vivendi Environmental to raise funds to slash debts with creditor Deutsche Bank. The move, which gained Vivendi around €1.7 billion, was interpreted by many as evidence of cash flow problems.
A statement issued today sought to reassure edgy investors about the company's liquidity.
"Owing to its strong free cash flow combined with the execution of the disposals programme and potential bond issues, Vivendi Universal is confident of its capacity to meet its anticipated obligations over the next 12 months," the company said.
In order to further assuage disillusioned investors, the company has announced that it will open its books to the public twice a month so as to "put a halt to continuous and negative rumours surrounding the group and to give investors the best possible understanding of its financial situation".
It is clear that Messier, not one to tread softly, will have to balance the competing demands of board members, creditors, shareholders and the media with the difficult decisions that lie ahead if the company is to maintain its market position.
Vivendi Universal, www.vivendi.com
(GMcG)
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