Vivendi's Jean-Bernard Lévy Bets on Digitally Connected Consumers
Since taking over as chief executive of French entertainment and telecom giant Vivendi in 2005, Jean-Bernard Lévy has turned it around by streamlining operations and making some smart acquisitions. But with shareholders pressuring him to boost the conglomerate’s flagging stock price, Lévy is looking to emerging markets to increase sales of everything from cell phone services to online music and movies.
By Julie Segal
Theres nothing hip about Vivendi CEO Jean-Bernard Lévy. The elegant and seemingly unflappable Frenchman is a serious classical pianist whose parents sent him to boarding school in England to learn the language there.
But Lévy, 57, ably rules an empire that makes much of its coin from delivering entertainment to young, digitally savvy consumers. Paris-based Vivendi owns Universal Music Group the planets largest music company and 60 percent of Activision Blizzard, the California publisher of the bestselling Call of Duty and World of Warcraft video game franchises. Among the conglomerates other assets: French telecommunications company SFR and pay-television provider Canal+ Group, Brazilian telecom operator GVT and a 53 percent stake in Rabat, Moroccobased Maroc Telecom.
Since taking over from interim CEO Jean-René Fourtou in 2005, Lévy has built up Vivendis core businesses; now he wants them to collaborate more closely. But the former aerospace executive has warned of weak earnings this year and next because of such factors as fierce competition in the domestic and Moroccan mobile markets.
Lévys overall track record at Vivendi is impressive. He inherited huge debt thanks to a zealous overexpansion by Fourtous predecessor Jean-Marie Messier, who had recast the onetime water, waste and construction giant as a media company. Lévy streamlined Vivendi after Messiers buying spree, selling its minority stake in NBC Universal to General Electric Co. But among other changes, he added growth stories by merging Vivendi Games with Activision in 2008 and acquiring GVT the following year. In 2011, Activision....