Vincent Bolloré, the combative French investor, has criticised the directors of Aegis, the UK media buyer and market researcher, in a display of preliminary chest beating before their showdown next Wednesday.
In a letter sent out to journalists – dated on Friday and nominally addressed to Lord Sharman, chairman of Aegis – Mr Bolloré said his position as Aegis’s biggest shareholder merited boardroom representation.
“It is a basic principle of company law: shareholders who invest and risk their money ought to be able to be represented on the board,” he said.
He also claimed that it would be damaging for employees and clients for Aegis’s board to be in conflict with its largest shareholder, raising the prospect of a “lose-lose situation” after the shareholder meeting.
He accused the board of consigning Aegis “to a troubled phase in its history which could destroy value”.
Bolloré Group, the listed investment vehicle controlled by Mr Bolloré, has built up a stake of 29 per cent in Aegis with the aim of pushing it into some form of alliance with Havas, the French marketing services group that Mr Bolloré chairs and in which Bolloré Group is also the biggest investor.
Mr Bolloré’s request for two seats on the Aegis board has been opposed by Aegis’s current directors. The matter will be decided at Aegis’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday morning in London.
Aegis said nothing in the letter altered its belief that appointing two Bolloré representatives to the board would constitute a “severe conflict of interest” given Mr Bolloré’s roles at Havas, whose MPG arm competes with Aegis. “We are protecting the interests of shareholders,” Aegis said.
Aegis told investors last month that a merger with Havas would be unattractive because the French group offers a broad range of marketing services while Aegis is a specialist. It added that a smaller collaboration with MPG would present only limited benefits.
Last month, Fernando Rodés, Havas’s chief executive, told the FT that Mr Bolloré had already secured a form of “negative control” over Aegis, in spite of being a minority shareholder.
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