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Ugly Ending at Vivendi

Report: Vivendi Universal CFO Hannezo -- ousted CEO's top lieutenant -- to leave as new management tries to clean up old management's mess.
Lisa YoonJuly 15, 2002

>> Vivendi Universal finance chief Guillaume Hannezo going the way of former boss Jean-Marie Messier, who resigned under pressure earlier this month… According to a report in the New York Times, Hannezo, who was a close ally of Messier, denies a report in French magazine Le Monde that he resigned last Tuesday from the media giant… Still, it’s widely understood between Hannezo and the board that he’s out, people close to the company told the Times…

“It’s normal to envisage that a new management applying a new strategy would at some point need a new finance director,” Hannezo told the Times… Sounds logical enough, especially when old management’s strategy was to transform stodgy water company to media conglomerate through shopping spree… Buying frenzy saddled Vivendi with biggest corporate debt load in French history… Investors, at first pumped up by Messier’s charisma and vision, quickly became disenchanted with CEO’s inability to make his vision work… During past year, Vivendi market capitalization has been cut by 76 percent…

Hannezo played no small part in company’s rise—and recent fall from grace… Indeed, he played executor to Messier’s idea man, handling the financial details of Messier’s grand vision… But there’s been growing criticism of late of Hannezo, particularly about lack of transparency in Vivendi’s financials… Investors especially frustrated with company’s vagueness in describing cash position…

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Under Messier, Vivendi management issued repeated denials that company was getting strapped for cash… But hours after Jean-Rene Fourtou was appointed to replace Messier, company made an announcement about cash position, stating Vivendi was going to be strapped for cash without new loans to cover short-terms obligations… Earlier this week, a group of six banks agreed to provide Vivendi with a credit line of 1 billion euros… French securities regulator started investigating company’s financial reporting…

Claude Bebear, chairman of French insurer AXA and the Vivendi director who was central figure in Messier’s removal, will head new board committee on finance… Meanwhile, he and Fourtou have reportedly begun drawing up short list of candidates for CFO post…

Among the candidates is Jacques Espinasse, COO of Television Par Satellite, the No. 2 satellite TV operator in France…

>> Cole National Corp. sees big things for Lawrence E. Hyatt. Operator of Pearle Vision and Things Remembered gift stores named Hyatt new EVP and CFO… Ironically, he spent 17 years in finance positions at Marriott International… Hyatt was CFO of HMS Host Corp. and of Sodexho Marriott Services Inc., where he led the spin-off, refinancing, and merger transactions that created HMS Host… Most recently, Hyatt was chief financial and restructuring officer of PSINet Inc., guiding company through its recently completed restructuring…

Hyatt succeeds Thomas T.S. Kaung, who is retiring… Kaung was controller and then CFO of Cole National from 1979 to 1991… He returned as CFO in late 1999…

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