Vermeer's The Concert

Vermeer's The Concert

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Stolen Art Watch, Jean Marie Messier Ponders Gardner Art Return !!


Thursday, Mar. 13, 2008


The trademark tan has dimmed, and his voice softens when he recounts the tumultuous events surrounding his downfall as a corporate titan. But if former Vivendi Universal CEO Jean-Marie Messier no longer boasts the "master of the world" moniker, don't expect to find him repudiating his stint as an empire-building media tycoon either. "I still receive e-mails and get stopped in the street by young people saying 'You gave me the desire to form my own company,'" says Messier.

He followed that very desire in the months after his 2002 ejection from Vivendi in the depths of the tech bust. With the help of a borrowed office, he founded the New York City--based mergers-and-acquisitions advisory boutique Messier Partners. Says Messier, in one of the rare interviews he's given since he left Vivendi: "I don't manage large teams anymore that run businesses that you can't control or you can't be sure to get satisfaction from. I like advising CEOs, and I love helping them with negotiations."

Acquisition negotiation is something Messier, 51, knows a little bit about, having overseen some $100 billion in M&A during his six years at Vivendi. Yet it is Messier's calamitous experience with the buzzy, fuzzy concept of convergence that has made him a player again. Just as in 2000, media and Web companies today talk of straddling a world in which users of any device--mobile phone, laptop, PDA, TV--can command voice, data, video, entertainment and games on demand. Messier saw that coming--perhaps too soon.

Now he is seeing some vindication in the strategy. He demonstrated that in 2006 when he steered Publicis CEO Maurice Lévy to spend $1.3 billion to buy online advertising and marketing specialist Digitas before that market got scalding hot. "We made a full screening of what was happening in the interactive-marketing media field, how it was going to impact [Publicis'] business and why they needed to make an early major move into that field," says Messier. Since then, he points out, every large player has followed the trend: Google with DoubleClick, Yahoo! with Right Media, WPP with 24/7 Real Media, and Microsoft with aQuantive. "We were first in online. Publicis was the only major player to have made an acquisition in this field at less than three times turnover [sales], whereas Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft had to fight for the remaining acquisitions with multiples of 10 to 12 times turnover."

Messier also advised Merrill Lynch Global Private Equity and the New York City-based private-equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice in their $5 billion purchase of electrical equipment distributor Rexel, and he counseled computer-services company Unilog in its $1.1 billion sale to Britain's Logica. Other clients include French heavyweights Lagardère, PPR and Schneider Electric.

Still, given the outcome of his leadership of Vivendi--a forced resignation as the company teetered, paralyzed by nearly $35 billion in debt--one might suspect he'd be radioactive. If so, the toxic glow didn't last long. "Soon after I created Messier Partners," he says, "I was working with a big U.S. CEO, and I asked him why he'd chosen to work with me when he has all the major American investment banks at his feet.He said, 'Jean-Marie, how could I trust the advice of someone who has only ever had success?' To be able to give advice, you need to know the meaning of a decision and to have gone through ups and downs."

Don't expect a corner-office comeback. He says his distance from the C-suite is just as important as having occupied it. "A CEO knows his industry, so he is sick of seeing investment-banking teams come in and tell him he needs to buy a competitor he knows better than any of them," says Messier--a dapper suit and ready smile being his only holdovers from Vivendi days. "I've been on both sides: the advisory and the entrepreneurial side. I know what you feel and what you ask yourself before you make a major strategic move. And I know how desperately you need to get your head above the day-to-day work and be given perspective."

Messier got a lot of big-picture things right at Vivendi. Before its finances unraveled toward the end of 2001, the European powerhouse had staked out a strong base in the U.S. with assets such as Universal Studios and USA Network. The company's formidable media and telecom presence in Europe, meanwhile, allowed Messier to tantalize people with talk about how they'd soon be downloading music, sending photos and even watching video on mobile devices. Convergence of delivery and content, he promised, meant companies like his could offer it all. "Vivendi had the correct vision: the conversion of broadband and wireless to bring any content to anyone, anywhere, anytime, on any handset," Messier says. "That is all reality now. Anyone who saw me as a foolish guy in 2001 is quiet today."

True, but mobile phones didn't deliver the promised goodies-enabled technologies on schedule, and consumers refused to align their media purchases for Vivendi's benefit. Those are two reasons that Messier's successors at Vivendi have sold off many of its media units, while other convergence players, like Time Warner (owner of TIME), are considering disaggregation. "The emphasis now is being the best in the media activities you're focused on, not having all aspects of the sector covered," says a Vivendi official who asks not to be identified. Indeed, though Vivendi recently reacquired control of French telecom Cegetel, which it sold after Messier's departure, and is merging its games division with U.S. gamer Activision to create Activision Blizzard, the official says its strategy is significantly different from Messier's.

Messier sought to assemble the complete media group whose affiliates all do business with one another. Now, says the Vivendi exec, "we've reinforced our media activities in key areas and allow our affiliates to do business with whatever companies fill their needs best--whether inside or outside the group." Plug and play has supplanted media monolith. Still, Messier points to companies like News Corp. and Disney as examples of how big content providers continue to drive convergence.

Messier remains marked by the hostility and humiliation that swirled around him in his rapid transformation from star to villain. With his career and fortune in ruins, he recalls, his main "reason for waking up every morning was knowing my children were waiting for me to give them some hope for the future because they couldn't see their dad destroyed.

Time and work--and a little help from business friends--have supported a comeback. Messier occasionally meets French President Nicolas Sarkozy--a man he's known for 20 years and who "was one politician who never canceled any appointments" after the fall. Not surprisingly, he supports Sarkozy's dynamic entrepreneurial efforts to reform French society--a kind of cultural revolution Messier attempted within French business circles at Vivendi.

Messier is optimistic that his friend will succeed where previous French leaders failed, but he isn't ready to shift Messier Partners' HQ from New York City to Paris just yet. "The U.S. is the country of the second chance--where there isn't so much jealousy, and if you've had problems that you try to rebound from, everyone will applaud and will try to help," Messier explains.

Convinced that the convergence wave is peaking anew, Messier says he'll surf it by reminding clients how "vital it is to own their customers"--or face getting crowded out through "the increased dominance of Google." Playing the role of strategist and adviser in that evolution may not involve the "master of the world" role, but it will allow Messier to test his vision without the career risk that was once Vivendi.

Art Hostage comments:

Now do you see how difficult it is to get these powerful people to return the stolen art they have.

What with Prince Waleed given the cloak of respectability by non other than George Bush senior, and now Jean Marie Messier given a pass from non other than the current French President Nick Sarkozy, other means need to be employed to recover the Gardner art in these guys possession.

The Vermeer and the Irish connection are a different prospect, although the Catholic church confession box could be used by Jean Marie Messier and Prince Waleed as they are not expecting a financial reward.

Fear not, Anthony Amore is on the case, using his Homeland Security connections, with FBI Icon Robert Wittman/Geoff "Ned" Kelly whispering in his ear, approaches have been made to Jean Marie Messier to hand back the stolen Gardner paintings he has, without fuss, discreetly and without fanfare.

Although the political door has been slammed shut regarding Prince Waleed, further approaches are on-going and hopefully Prince Waleed will have a change of heart and allow some of his stolen art collection to be returned.

The Vermeer's current status:

Awaiting recovery as soon as Catholic Priest gets clearance from Rome to claim reward and pass it on. The Celtic Tigers are ready !!

Headache Art, thats what high value stolen art is, for all concerned !!
P.S. FBI should arrest Jean Marie Messier in New York on an International warrant from France, for antiquities smuggling, if Jean Marie Messier plays hardball.
Shhh, Art Hostage, FBI are playing Good Cop, Bad Cop comes later !!

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