Bollore Plots New Moves for Aegis Board Seats

Tell Cannes Press He Is Targeting 7% of Shareholders

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CANNES (AdAge.com) -- During a quick visit to the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, Havas Chairman Vincent Bollore met with journalists to reiterate his intention to continue the battle for two seats on the board of Aegis Group. That effort was voted down by shareholders at Aegis' annual general meeting in London last week.
Vincent Bollore told reporters that he and the Aegis' shareholders who rejected his bid for board seats have 'had our first date and we consider this to be a long love affair. We're not in a hurry, and our arguments will remain the same.'
Vincent Bollore told reporters that he and the Aegis' shareholders who rejected his bid for board seats have 'had our first date and we consider this to be a long love affair. We're not in a hurry, and our arguments will remain the same.' Credit: Pat Denton

Speaking at the Havas Cafe along the Coisette, the financier stood at a podium flanked by Gold Lions won so far by Havas agencies earlier this week and said, "As a big [Aegis] shareholder, we believe we have to participate in debates about the company. If you're not on the board, you go to the annual meeting and have half an hour [talks] once a year."

57% to 43% split
Mr. Bollore owns 29% of Aegis. Although almost all the rest of Aegis' shareholders voted against his board nominees June 14, Mr. Bollore said the 57% to 43% split only required him to persuade 7% of shareholders to change their minds for him to get 50.1% of the votes, and that he is likely to try to call another vote in September after lobbying shareholders. (However, factoring out Mr. Bollore's own votes as Aegis' biggest shareholder, 94% of votes were against his resolutions. A total of 76% of eligible votes were cast, a very high proportion by today's standards.)

"We've had our first date and consider this to be a long love affair," Mr. Bollore said. "We're not in a hurry, and our arguments will remain the same."

Mr. Bollore said that there were longstanding talks, even before he became an Aegis shareholder, about combining Havas' media network MPG and Aegis. Aegis is parent of media network Carat and market research firm Synovate.

"We try to be a tiger among the elephants," Mr. Bollore said. "I answered that of course I was open to such a discussion but the main problem for me was to be sure Aegis remained an independent company. I told [Aegis], 'I will invest in your company to make sure it is not taken over by elephants.'"

Poor relations with Aegis CEO
In an interview with Advertising Age after the press conference, Mr. Bollore said he did not speak to Aegis CEO Robert Lerwill at last week's meeting or since the meeting. "We have not said hello," he said. "Relations are extremely poor."

Mr. Bollore said he thought his board nominees would be acceptable and not represent "the risk of creeping conflict" alleged by Aegis because they do not work for him. And one of them, former Cannes Festival owner Roger Hatchuel, was the person who contacted Mr. Bollore before he became Aegis' biggest shareholder to say that Aegis would like to talk to him, Mr. Bollore said. The other nominee, Philippe Germond, is the former managing director of Alcatel.

At the press conference, Mr. Bollore spoke briefly about Havas before taking questions from journalists. He said Havas is being de-listed from the Nasdaq stock exchange in the U.S. as a cost-saving measure, since the Paris-based company has fewer than 300 American shareholders. "The first goal is to show we are trying to save money," he said.

Nasdaq, SEC
Herve Philippe, the chief financial officer Mr. Bollore installed six months ago, told Advertising Age that after the Nasdaq de-listing, which he said will save Havas several million dollars, Havas might also de-register from the Securities and Exchange Commission in the U.S. Leaving Nasdaq and not having to do SEC filings in the U.S. and comply with all the SEC rules would save Havas a total of $6 million to $12 million, he said.

Mr. Philippe said that only about 6,000 Havas shares a day are traded on Nasdaq, compared to 1 million to 2 million a day in Paris. U.S. investors can easily purchase the companies shares through the Paris Bourse, he said.

As for Aegis, Mr. Bollore didn't seem at all discouraged by his rebuff at last week's shareholders meeting. "No, we're not happy with the first date," he said. "But we're very persistent."
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