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Bollore says not a candidate for Vivendi CEO job

Vincent Bollore, CEO of investment group Bollore, stands by Autolib' electric cars during the inauguration of the the Autolib' service in Pa
Vincent Bollore, CEO of investment group Bollore, stands by Autolib' electric cars during the inauguration of the the Autolib' service in Pa

By Leila Abboud and Gwénaëlle Barzic

PARIS (Reuters) - Vivendi's largest shareholder Vincent Bollore said on Tuesday he was not seeking the chief executive job at the media and telecoms group, paving the way for a resolution of a boardroom tussle.

Bollore had clashed with Vivendi chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou over a plan to choose a new chief executive, a source earlier told Reuters.

The company is in the middle of a shake-up that includes asset sales to streamline its diverse group of businesses built up during an acquisition spree in the late 1990s.

The row over the CEO appointment marks the first time Bollore has openly clashed with Fourtou and used his influence as Vivendi's largest shareholder. Bollore had previously backed the management's strategy and advised patience on asset sales.

Fourtou has been leading the restructuring since he forced out the previous CEO Jean Bernard Levy in early 2012. Jean-Francois Dubos, a Vivendi veteran, is chief executive of the management board.

Bollore, a French industrialist and investor, floated the idea of his own candidacy for the CEO job last week, potentially derailing the CEO recruitment process.

Since then intermediaries have been trying to broker a deal between the two men ahead of a Wednesday board meeting.

Under the terms being discussed, Bollore would withdraw his CEO bid and Fourtou would agree a timetable to step aside as chairman, a person familiar with the situation said.

Fourtou, whose mandate as chairman runs through 2016, is said to want to pilot Vivendi through the next stage of its year-old corporate makeover to exit telecoms and focus on content and media.

But he is now expected to agree to step down by roughly summer 2014, the person said, giving him time to put in place a spin-off of Vivendi's biggest unit, French telecom operator SFR.

Bollore, who owns 5 percent of Vivendi, is likely to take over as chairman upon Fourtou's departure, although any announcement on that is premature, the person said.

The deal between Bollore and Fourtou has yet to be finalized and will depend on discussions at Wednesday's board meeting.

Bollore, in a statement, welcomed the withdrawal of a CEO candidate he said was backed by Fourtou.

"Bollore will remain vigilant on the future evolution of the management and the board, and is not himself in search of a post or a salary in Vivendi," the statement said.

Sources earlier told Reuters the board had considered Thomas Rabe, current CEO of German media group Bertelsmann as a candidate among others.

A Vivendi spokesman said Rabe was not the candidate backed by Fourtou but rather one of those being considered by the board.

Vivendi has already agreed to sell off its video games maker Activision Blizzard and its Moroccan telecom unit for some 10.4 billion euros. It is now studying a possible initial public offering of SFR.

Investors want to know how much of the proceeds from the sales will go to reduce debt and be returned to shareholders. Some see Bollore's presence as a positive given his track record of making profitable investments in advertising agency Havas and industrial group Vallourec .

Frederic Tassin, a fund manager at Aviva Investors France, said the management spat did not change his belief that Vivendi's assets were undervalued. Aviva owns Vivendi shares.

"The group still suffers from a conglomerate discount in the market because its different businesses have few synergies between them," he said.

"Bollore's presence, and his desire to shorten the tenure of the chairman, supports our belief about the group's valuation."

Despite progress on asset sales, Vivendi shares are down 0.4 percent this year, underperforming a 17 percent rise in the European telecom index <.SXKP> and a 21 percent rise in the media index <.SXMP>.

(Reporting by Leila Abboud and Gwenaelle Barzic; Editing by Christian Plumb and Jane Merriman)

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