Q&A with new giant of adland: Bollore

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Renowned in Europe as a corporate raider, shareholder activist and head of Bollore Group, a $7.9 billion conglomerate with interests including paper, plastic films and freight forwarding, Vincent Bollore has until recently been an unknown outside of an elite crowd of investment bankers and Euro CEOs. But since ousting Havas' CEO and being named the advertising holding company's chairman, Mr. Bollore, 54, is forging a higher profile in the ad and media world. He speaks with Advertising Age reporter Lisa Sanders about his plans for building Havas.

In December 2005, referring to your investment in Havas, you said: "I'm not here as a passer-by. ... The past bad news is something I can get rid of. ... we know where we can grow." Euro RSCG contributes the largest portion of revenue to Havas' bottom line. What has Euro done correctly in the past year? What remains to be done?

Euro is a very good company ... The main problem was the acquisition strategy that management decided to do with no competence for that. The basis of Euro was very good, but all the energy and money were focused on acquisition instead of being focused on how to keep and earn new clients. What we've done is change and nominate a new team ... David [Jones], Mercedes [Erra] and Fernando [Rodes] are all around 40 years old, and we've given them a lot of power to develop the company. ... We are still brilliant in France, but we are still improving. In the last 10 months, we've invested in people. Now we also are doing the same thing around the world, with Reckitt [Benckiser], with Pfizer, with others. Now our people are dedicated to clients.

Euro CEO David Jones said you told him, "I'll never ask you for improved quarter-over-quarter profit." Is that true?

Bollore Group [Havas' single largest shareholder] is a very special group because it is still controlled by the [Bollore] family. We don't have the quarterly results. We can have a long-term policy; we prefer to have 15% margins, but we believe that if it is necessary to have low margins and then ... increase our abilities and profits, it is better. We've put some money in the company, given power to a new generation and explained to them that what impresses us is not one year but the next 10.

I understand that part of Euro's promise to Reckitt during the global pitch was that you would meet with management as needed. Are you actively involved in pitching clients and helping serve accounts?

I'm ready to meet every client. We are ready to really fix Havas, to stick to the needs of clients. The industry is really changing now, and it is important to be flexible.

Do you admire any particular competitor?

[WPP Group Chief Executive] Martin Sorrell, because he is so tough, so focused on how to succeed. He works night and day. He's a model. I'm much nicer.
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