THE MAN WHO TRIED TO BUY THE WORLD: Jean-Marie Messier and Vivendi Universal

Jo Johnson, Author, Martine Orange, Joint Author . Portfolio $25.95 (268p) ISBN 978-1-59184-018-3

Messier was a wunderkind of French business who at the age of 37 was appointed chief executive of Générale des Eaux. He had already served in the finance ministry under Jacques Chirac and been a managing partner with the investment banking firm Lazard Frères when he assumed leadership of Générale in 1994, and the water management company was one of France's largest corporations. Messier, however, did not see Générale's future in water and sewage management, but in the media and information world. To accomplish the transformation, Messier embarked on a dizzying buying spree highlighted by the $42 billion purchase in 2000 of Seagram, a deal that included Seagram's Universal assets. For Messier, the creation of the newly minted Vivendi Universal (which also bought Houghton Mifflin in 2001) was not only a personal triumph, but also a statement that a French company could compete on the world stage. But as Johnson and Orange show, Messier created a gulf between himself and the French establishment that left him with few allies as he tried to save his company when business conditions declined in 2001. In their briskly paced, insightful work, Johnson, the Paris correspondent for the Financial Times , and Orange, a reporter for Le Monde , relate Messier's many missteps that led to his fall from the top of the media world. Part of Messier's undoing was the disdain many French have for America's domination of the media and the belief that in merging with Seagram, Messier had sold out French culture. Given the French attitude about America as documented by Johnson and Orange, the recent strain in French-American relations comes as no surprise. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 10/27/2003
Release date: 11/01/2003
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!