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Tuesday, 2 July, 2002, 06:59 GMT 07:59 UK
Vivendi's Messier steps down
Jean-Marie Messier
Messier: "My successors can only be French"
The colourful chief executive of French media group Vivendi Universal has announced his resignation from the debt-strapped firm.

Some analysts say this is likely to lead to the break-up of the Vivendi empire that includes Universal film studios, television giant Canal Plus and Universal Music Group.

Vivendi empire
Cegetel Telecom
Water services
Vizzavi internet portal
Canal Plus
Universal Music group
Universal studios
"I am quitting so that Vivendi Universal may remain," Jean-Marie Messier said in an interview with Le Figaro newspaper, after reports of his imminent departure boosted the firm's share price.

Mr Messier grew Vivendi into the world's second largest media firm, with hit films such as "A Beautiful Mind" and successful artists such as U2 and Luciano Pavarotti.

But the board reportedly blames Mr Messier for an 80% decline in the company's value.

Mr Messier said he had agreed to resign because he had been given an assurance that his successors would be French and because the board had wanted him to leave.

Replacement picked?

Mr Messier's announcement came after a board meeting on Monday.

Vivendi artists
Bon Jovi
Elton John
Bob Marley
James Brown
Luciano Pavarotti

A union official said that the Vivendi board meeting was called to agree a farewell compensation package for Mr Messier.

Jean-Rene Fourtou, vice-chairman of drugs company Aventis, is tipped to replace Mr Messier in the short term.

"I hope the market will give my successor what it withheld from me, time to act in calm fashion," Mr Messier said.

Another board meeting is now scheduled for Wednesday, to hammer out the final details.

Mr Messier was once the darling of the Paris financial community, but has now become the target of broad criticism for his management style.

Goodbye from North America

Mr Messier's demise as Vivendi boss had been predicted countless times, and each time until now he managed to escape the axe.

But he crucially lost the confidence of the firm's importance North American shareholder, including the Bronfman family, which formerly owned Seagram, the drinks to entertainment giant merged with Vivendi two years ago.

The markets were already welcoming Mr Messier's imminent resignation, and Vivendi's shares closed 9% higher on Monday.

The company was once worth about $100bn.

It is now worth less than a fifth of that amount, and some analysts say it would be more valuable if sold in pieces.

The BBC's Mark Gregory
"There's no suggestion of fraud at Vivendi, but like Enron and Worldcom it's another miracle firm that's crashed to earth."
Professor Eli Cohen, French economist
"I think Mr Messier will resign because the French and American board members have decided to get rid of him."
Financial Times journalist Thorold Barker
"The company is overburdened with debt"
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