The future of the French conglomerate Vivendi and its Houghton Mifflin subsidiary were very much up in the air last week following the resignation of Vivendi chairman Jean-Marie Messier. Messier was forced out by the company's board of directors after his plan to build a worldwide media empire placed the company heavily in debt and drove down the company's stock price.

Among the many acquisitions made by Messier was the June 2001 purchase of HM for $1.7 billion in cash and the assumption of $500 million in debt. HM is now part of Vivendi Universal Publishing and gained a new CEO July 1 when Hans Gieskes was named to succeed Nader Darehshori. At press time, a successor to Messier had not yet been named, but whoever is chosen will likely make reducing the company's debt a top priority. Messier hoped to raise funds by divesting assets outside of Vivendi's core media holdings, but a wide range of scenarios have been advanced by analysts, including one that would divide the assets by geographical regions, with Vivendi keeping the European assets and selling the North American companies. HM's stay in the Vivendi family could be a brief one.