A proxy battle over the control of Lagardère, the parent company of Hachette Livre, appears headed to a resolution. Amber Capital, which owns 20% of Lagardère, has been pushing for greater control over the past year. Amber has been aligned with Vivendi, which owns a 26.7% stake, and other investors for a push for more board seats.
Under the current structure, Arnaud Lagardère, who controls the company through a family holding company, is seen by some other investors has having too much power over corporate matters, despite owning just 7% of shares. To assist him with the fight, Lagardère brought in Bernard Arnault, the head of LVMH and among the richest people in the world, as a partner in his holding company, giving him a 25% stake.
Responding to reports circulating in Europe of the weekend about some sort of deal, Lagardère issued a statement confirming that it is "currently studying a project to change its corporate form into a joint-stock company. Discussions are ongoing in this respect between the company and its main shareholders." According to reporting from the Financial Times, Arnaud Lagardère may be willing to give up the existing management structure in exchange for €200 million-€250 million. He would retain a significant amount of control, while ceding three board seats to Vivendi, and one each to Amber Capital, Bernard Arnault and Quatar Investment Authority, another significant shareholder.
The fight has not been without victims. Last month, the company announced the appointment of Pierre Leroy as chairman and CEO of Hachette Livre, replacing its longtime and highly-regarded CEO Arnaud Nourry. Nourry had gone public with his concerns that should too much pressure be put on the company and compromises made, its current structure would be broken up. His main fear appeared to be the potential sales of some or all of Hachette Livre to Vivendi, which owns rival publishing house Editis.
Today's news comes a day before Lagardère will release its first quarter earnings report and two weeks before the company's general shareholder meeting on May 5. Last week, the company published a letter for shareholders that offers a view of Lagardère's development since 2003, arguing that it has engaged in an "ambitious transformation strategy" that has led to significant growth. In short, management argues the company is moving in the right direction.
Hachette Livre, parent company of the Hachette Book Group, had total revenue of €2.4 billion in 2020, and represented more than half of Lagardère's overall revenue of €4.3 billion for the year. While the publishing business saw only a 0.4% dip in sales and an increase in profits, Lagardère's travel business took a huge hit in revenue and posted a deep operating loss.