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Bollore Tells Cannes: 'I Love This Field'

Havas Chairman Wants to Be the Next Martin Sorrell

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CANNES ( -- This year Martin Sorrell didn't make it to Cannes, Maurice Levy planned to go to China instead, and John Wren left before DDB's big Friday night beach bash.

Hear Vincent Bollore explain why he fears and admires his rival, WPP Group chief Martin Sorrell.
But Vincent Bollore held his second annual Cannes press conference yesterday with a standing-room-only crowd, then chatted with journalists individually.

Thinking about next year
Mr. Bollore's first visit to the Cannes festival last year was only half a day long. This time he stayed two days, and is thinking about making it three next year. That's a signal for anyone who thought his history as a French corporate raider meant he would be a short-lived Havas shareholder (he's chairman of the French ad agency holdng company). He also has another history, as the sixth-generation Bollore to run Bollore Group, one of France's major industrial groups started by his great-great-great-great grandfather in 1822.

"With Martin, Maurice and Omnicom, you have a military organization," Mr. Bollore said, regarding the heads of the top three ad companies. Mr. Sorrell if chief executive of WPP Group, Mr. Levy is chairman-CEO and Omnicom's chief is Mr. Wren. "There is the general, the sergeants. In Havas, it's quite different. We have tribes. I thought it was very important to keep the tribes."

Although Havas, the world's sixth-largest marketing services holding company, is just one part of Bollore Group, which also encompasses shipping and transportation, oil, and many other sectors, Mr. Bollore told Advertising Age in an interview that he spends about one-quarter of his time now on Havas, with the agencies and their clients, and even goes to some pitches.

Love affair
"I love this field," he said. "I believe my job is to keep the spirit, and to check that the main figures are good. I see the clients because when I arrived at the head of Havas, it was a big change. It was important to show them my involvement not only financially but personally for the long term. Maybe in 20 years I will be as good as Martin Sorrell!"

Mr. Bollore spoke admiringly of Mr. Sorrell, and said he likes to study him.

"He's so clever and powerful that it makes us a little afraid, but he's a nice competitor and I try to copy him," he said.

That didn't stop him from making some digs at the press conference at the bigger, publicly held companies and how they are continually under the gun to focus on their quarterly results.

"When I see John Wren and Maurice Levy and my friend Mr. Sorrell obliged to deliver better results every quarter, I imagine the pressure is very high," he said. "Maybe you can make some silly acquisitions and mistakes." He paused for a moment and added: "Of course Martin will never do that."

Havas Cafe
Mr. Bollore spoke in a large corner of the Carlton Hotel that is transformed for the week into the Havas Cafe. For the press conference, journalists sat on curvy red sofas and rows and rows of Philippe Starck's famous clear Louis Ghost chairs. Voluble Havas Vice Chairman Jacques Seguela, turquoise sweater knotted over his shoulders, dashed around the room, taking a microphone to journalists for questions, and freely throwing in his own answers and comments.

Mr. Bollore speaks English well, with a French accent and peppered with occasional American expressions like "to make a long story short" and "whatever." Other Havas execs, who are mostly Spanish or French (with the exception of David Jones, global CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide), also answered questions, mostly in English with a few asides in French.

Journalists asked about the race to acquire digital expertise in a rash of major acquisitions of digital agencies by the other holding companies.

"I see all our colleagues race to acquire companies, and I wonder if it is a good idea," he said. "We decided to go step by step." He said Havas is hiring talented digital experts and building digital capabilities within existing Havas agencies as well as looking at acquisitions.

Once again, Aegis
As always, the subject of Aegis was raised, and Mr. Bollore's relentless effort to win two seats on the board of the company, in which Bollore Group is the largest shareholder with a 30% stake. With about $1 billion invested in Aegis, Mr. Bollore said he will continue to use his legal right as a major shareholder to convoke shareholder meetings about every three months to vote on naming his two candidates to the board. The next one will be in September or October. He stressed his friendly relations with Aegis managers, noting that Mainardo de Nardis, CEO Aegis Media Global and a member of the Aegis board, was sitting in the room.

"We believe it is a long love affair, and we must be aggressive, and must have time," Mr. Bollore said. "I will retire on Feb. 17, 2022. That date [marks] two centuries for our group. You are all invited! Keep that date. I am sure by then we will succeed [with Aegis board seats]."
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