Yannick Bolloré On the Positive Influence of the Family Business

Says 200-year History of Groupe Bolloré Breeds Confidence for Havas Clients

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Yannick Bolloré, chairman and chief executive of Havas, talked about the benefits of being part of a family business during his first outing as an ad industry conference speaker since taking on the top job at the French communications group.

Speaking at Advertising Week Europe in London on Wednesday, the 34- year-old son of Vincent Bolloré (former chairman of Havas and still the French communications group's major shareholder with a 37% stake) admitted that the family connection means he doesn't lose sleep worrying about keeping his job. "My leadership is not a problem," he said, "I don't question my future at Havas every morning, so I have the opportunity to be focused on the business problem instead."

Yannick Bolloré also talked about the history of the family company, Groupe Bolloré, which was founded in France in 1822 when his great, great grandfather stole a paper manufacturing technique from the Chinese, and now has a wide range of business interests including electric car batteries. Mr. Bolloré joined Groupe Bolloré in 2006 and is still a director of the company. "It means we are focused on the long-term perspective," he said, "and [Havas] clients like the approach of long-term partnerships. They know we are a family group and they are confident that we will treat them well."

Talking about his own leadership style, Mr. Bolloré said, "It's important to take time to listen, to deeply understand the environment of your company and to have a clear view. The harder you listen to people, the more you can get results."

Mr. Bolloré said that his task in taking over from former CEO David Jones, who quit in January to launch a tech startup, was more about evolution than revolution. Talent, he insisted, was the "number one priority" for Havas. "When I see creative people working I know that nothing can replace human emotion. Talent is hard to explain -- I have the same tennis racquet as Rafa Nadal but my tennis is not the same."

Mr. Jones was also supposed to speak at Advertising Week Europe, but his appearance was cancelled. When he left Havas in early January, he was expected to reveal within weeks his next role as co-founder and CEO of a new tech business launching in February, but so far there is no news of the venture.

Facing questions about Havas' size and its ability to compete against bigger competitors, Mr. Bolloré emphasized that the group has between four and six acquisitions in the pipeline, but said that his ambition was "Not to be the biggest – it's to be the best at connecting people with brands." Havas recently reported organic revenue growth of 1% for 2013, compared to 3% for Omnicom, 2.6% for Publicis Groupe and 3.5% for WPP.

Answering questions which had been submitted in advance, he added, "Our scale is not far from being the ideal scale, because we are big enough, but not too big to be able to adapt to this new reality…if Google launches a new ad product we can implement it in all our operations around the world very quickly."

Mr. Bolloré said he had been surprised by the Publicis-Omnicom merger announcement last July, and added, "I don't want to say that the merger will be catastrophic, but if we make the right decisions and stay one step ahead of innovation I think it will give us a lot of opportunity. Publicis and Omnicom have said they will make savings, and they have a lot of great talent between them, so that could be good for us."

Yannick's father Vincent Bolloré is chairman of French media group Vivendi as well as owning 37% of Havas, prompting speculation about a possible merger between Vivendi and Havas, or a Havas sale. Yannick Bolloré acknowledged that there was a "logical link up" with Vivendi, and said, "It's hard for me to comment on a possible deal but you're right to say we have a common shareholder and the companies know each other. Vivendi is an important client – we make Canal + ads with great success – and content is one of the key options that could bring added value to our clients."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that WPP's 2013 revenue growth was 2.9%.

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