Vivendi and activist investor amber capital have won an important ally in their effort to force their way on to the board of lagardre ahead of a key court hearing set for thursday in paris.
Qatar holdings llc, the third-largest shareholder in the french publishing and retail group controlled by heir arnaud lagardre, said in a statement late on tuesday that it considers it legitimate that all significant shareholders be fairly represented on the board.
Such consensus will enhance value creation for all shareholders, it said, adding that it reserved the right to be represented on the board as well.
The statement is a sign that qatar supports vivendi and ambers campaign to require lagardre to hold an extraordinary shareholders meeting at which they would seek to gain board seats. vivendi is the companys biggest shareholder with a 21.5 per cent stake, according to s&p global market intelligence, while amber is the second-largest with nearly 20 per cent.
Mr lagardre himself only owns roughly 7 per cent of the shares but effectively controls the company and is hard to remove as its chief executive because of its distinctive legal status known as a socit en commandite.
The battle for lagardre has intensified since may when amber sought to replace the entire board at the regular annual meeting, prompting mr lagardre to seek allies to help him ward off the activist fund. that is when vivendi, led by billionaire corporate raider vincent bollor, first invested to help lagardre defeat amber.
But the one-time allies fell out soon afterwards when mr lagardre clinched a deal to allow another billionaire, bernard arnault, the founder of lvmh, to invest in the personal holding company that owns his stake in lagardre. vivendi then proceeded to add to its stake and ally itself with amber.
The next step in the baroque french corporate saga will take place in the paris commercial court on thursday when arguments will be heard on amber and vivendis lawsuit to force lagardre to hold a shareholders vote on their request to join the board. a decision is not expected to come immediately after the hearing, however.
Joseph oughourlian, the founder of amber capital, welcomed the statement from qatar holdings. the board of lagardre has failed to defend the interests of all shareholders, and it is only legitimate that shareholders should seek to change it, he told the financial times.
Vivendi said the move by qatar holdings was a reflection of the fact that current management and the current results are very disappointing, and that qatar llc shareholders feel like amber and vivendi that the interests of shareholders need to be represented. this is currently definitely not the case.
Lagardre could not be immediately reached for comment. in august it rejected the request to hold a new shareholder vote on the board, and extended the tenure of mr lagardre as chief executive for four years as he battled to keep control of the group founded by his father.
Additional reporting by arash massoudi in london