With a TV station, a radio station and two newspapers, in addition to the Havas operations, under his wing, French businessman Vincent Bolloré has been taken very seriously by the advertising and media industry since the time that he set foot in this domain, which is not very long ago. Bolloré already has made friends here, such as WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell – the two known for their mutual admiration. He has also made his set of competitors in Publicis Groupe’s Maurice Levy – the two known for not talking to each other.
Bolloré created quite a stir in the media and advertising industry in 2005 when he took over Havas Group. His interest in Aegis following that and the recent speculations on his conversations with the IPG group further has raised an eyebrow on how this French ‘corporate raider’ would challenge the international advertising dynamics as the world knows it. For now, he is happy with Havas’ growth.
He said, “Havas is in very good shape and I am very happy. We’ve had 7.1 per cent growth in 2007 and this is one the big figures of the market, so we are pleased. Even the debts that the company had are looking positive now. This is not by chance, but the hard work that the Havas group officers, from across the world, have put in.”
Bolloré also spoke about the changes that were made in Havas in the last two years, where the staff was given the option of bonds and even to invest in the company for its growth. He said that this move had worked in favour of the company. “The very fact that people from within the company are investing in the company is proof that they are confident. And that is so because we have a long term view. We have been formed 180 years ago; there are no financial shareholders asking us every quarter to improve our earnings. These are a few things that our competition doesn’t enjoy,” he added.
Bolloré is forward thinking in the kind of areas that Havas is focussing on, and digital media, mobile TV is on the agenda. The group can manage this because of the backing from the Bolloré Group, which is now even getting into the electric cars domain, a project that Bolloré is very excited about. He was also candid enough to state that India was an important market, but not right on top in the priority list of Havas. He said, “There are still markets like America, Central Europe and so on that we have to do a lot in.”
He stated that one of the great strengths that Havas had was that it had many capabilities within the group, making it a complete 360-degree group. He also said that he expected many things to unfold in days to come, including the financial crisis that the mature markets were facing, to show its colours on the media and advertising domain as well. However, he also said that Havas was geared for the “crisis” ahead.
By his own admission, Bolloré knows 10 per cent of what he should. He said, “But I have a long history of copying and I do that very well. More seriously, I have a good team of people at Havas, which was a key reason for me to invest in this company in the first place.”
Bolloré also clarified on the recent speculations regarding his meeting with the Interpublic Group (IPG). He said, “It is a good thing to keep in touch with your competition also.” His stance on Aegis Group hasn’t changed much and he still says that Aegis and Havas are like a love affair and that Havas would “wait” for Aegis to get back to them. “Aegis and Havas, and Havas and Aegis are competing. We are not in a hurry and waiting for them. We have explained our point. We have no problem. We don’t need Aegis – we can exist without them and they apparently can without us. We are the long term investors. We would remain. If they want to do something with us, we are happy and we are happy otherwise too,” Bolloré maintained.