Vincent Bolloré, the French investor, on Tuesday launched an outspoken attack on the former management of Havas, the marketing services group he now chairs.
Mr Bolloré warned that sales this month would be 10 per cent lower than a year ago, partly because last December’s accounts “had been inflated, to put it nicely” by €20m ($23.8m) of sales that should have been booked later, accounting that he called “a trick”.
Havas later sought to play down its chairman’s comments, made as he set out his strategy, saying the revenue booking was “not at all illegal” and “something that every firm does”.
Mr Bolloré also said the previous management, led by Alain de Pouzilhac who left Havas this year, had embarked on a “calamitous” acquisition policy. Jacques Herail, chief financial officer, left the group last month.
Underlying sales growth would slow to 1.4-1.5 per cent in 2005 from 2.8 per cent for the first nine months of the year.
The shares suffered their worst fall in two years, losing 5.6 per cent.
Mr Bolloré’s speech appeared designed to draw a line under Havas’s previously disappointing performance.
On Aegis, the UK advertising buying company where Mr Bolloré has become the largest shareholder, he said there were “no plans” for a merger with Havas.
He said he had no plans “for the moment” to raise his stake above 30 per cent and did not want a seat on Aegis’s board as it would be a “conflict on interest” with his position at Havas.
“We [the Bolloré Group] don’t want to go above 30 per cent for the moment but everything is open.”
Under stock market rules, Mr Bolloré would be obliged to make an offer to buy the whole company if he went above this barrier.
He said his experience could be beneficial to Havas and he could provide more capital if needed. “Even if I don’t have an executive role in Havas I think I can still be a valuable guide to show the way to growth.”
Colette Neuville, president of Adam, France’s leading minority shareholders’ group, described Mr Bolloré’s role as “completely ambiguous”.
She said that Mr Bolloré’s roles at Aegis and Havas showed the comparative weakness of French corporate governance compared with the UK.
“At Aegis he hasn’t got one seat on the board with 25 per cent, at Havas [with a 23.8 per cent stake] he’s presenting his strategy,” she said.