French investor Vincent Bolloré’s emergence as the leading shareholder in Aegis is winning praise from the US fund manager he replaced as the biggest shareholder in the UK advertising buying company.
David Herro of Harris Associates in Chicago is best known for leading the shareholder rebellion that helped force Maurice and Charles Saatchi from Saatchi & Saatchi.
Harris held a more than 10 per cent stake in Aegis in August when Mr Bolloré began buying shares. Mr Herro said Harris subsequently sold its entire stake.
However, Mr Herro indicated that its decision had more to do with its view of the management at Aegis than with the arrival of Mr Bolloré, who is also chairman of Havas, the French marketing-services group.
“I think Mr Bolloré is Aegis’s best hope,” said Mr Herro, chief investment officer, international, at Harris. “He is a skilled businessman. He is needed there.”
Mr Herro said Harris began buying stock in Aegis for about 90p a share in the summer of 2001. He said it sold for an average price of 136p a share. Aegis gained 5.75p on Monday, or nearly 5 per cent, to close at 123.5p.
Mr Herro’s praise for Mr Bolloré comes as the French investor faces renewed instability at Havas. The company said on Monday that Hervé Philippe, chief financial officer of Sagem of France, would replace its CFO, Jacques Hérail.
The question facing investors is whether Mr Bolloré will – or can – put together an offer for Aegis, or will be content to remain as a 25 per cent shareholder.
WPP, the UK marketing-services group, and Hellman & Friedman, the US private equity firm, said last Friday that they had decided against bidding for Aegis.
WPP and Hellman were understood to have tried to put together a three-way bid for Aegis with Mr Bolloré. If that had happened, they would have had to make an offer of at least 143.75p a share, the top price paid by Mr Bolloré for his shares.
If Aegis shares remain under 143.75p, its chief executive, Robert Lerwill, could face pressure from shareholders to sell to Mr Bolloré. Under a ruling by the UK Takeover Panel, Mr Bolloré remains free to put together a bid for Aegis.