Wouldn’t it be a shock if Vincent Bolloré, corporate raider, chairman of Havas and long-time would-be nemesis of Aegis, were finally to deliver his knock-out blow just when the media buying, digital and research group was least expecting it?
But he’d never do that would he, not now? Most informed commentators believe he missed his golden opportunity 18 months ago when Aegis had lost a third of its market value and was lurching rudderless after the incoming chairman, John Napier, fired group chief executive Robert Lerwill. Things are very different now, with Jerry Buhlman installed as ceo and actively engaged in an aggressive acquisitions policy that has successfully targeted Australian media buyer Mitchell Communications. The share price – an anaemic 75p 18 months ago – has now regained a lot of its former lustre, hovering around 123p.
So Bolloré, who owns 29.9% of Aegis, yet has failed five times to get two of his own directors on the board, would be mad to strike now – wouldn’t he? That’s certainly the impression he’s been cultivating with carefully placed interviews in France’s leading daily Le Figaro and the Financial Times. In the latter, the chairman and 33% owner of Havas tells us that the global advertising and media buying network is now poised to make a series of acquisitions but, he cautions: “It doesn’t mean we want to make one big shot but some different acquisitions in different countries.”
Really? What commentators seem to forget is that Havas itself was in no fit state to exploit Aegis’ weakness 18 months ago. It’s far better primed now, with up to €2bn (£1.7bn) in cash and loans available to it, and a much fitter share price to boot. Bolloré has close connections with Italy’s biggest publicly traded investment bank Mediobanca, of which he is a 5% shareholder.
Aegis is capitalised at about £1.47bn. A bid mixing Havas shares with substantial cash to sweeten Aegis’ extraordinarily loyal shareholders would be the way ahead.
Let’s see whether – in the coming months – Bolloré has the courage to take it.