ONE MAN, ONE ENTERPRISE, ONE DESTINY
EDUCATION AND EARLY CAREER
Jean-Marie Messier was born in 1956 in Grenoble, a city in the Alps of southeastern France. The son of an accountant, he was a serious and hardworking student in his high school years. Although he failed on his first attempt to gain entry to the École Polytechnique, the training ground of France's businesselite, he retook the entrance examinations the following year and was admitted. He did well in his studies, graduating from the school with high marks in 1976. Messier then attended the École Nationale d'Administration, or ENA, the traditional educational route to a high position in the French government. After completing his course of study at ENA in 1982, he worked for four years in the Frenchministry of finance as an auditor of state-owned corporations. He became the chief of staff of the French finance ministry in 1986, several months before his thirtieth birthday.
Instead of climbing higher up the political ladder, however, Messier surprised observers by leaving government service in 1988 for a position with Lazard Frères et Compagnie, a major French investment bank. Messierquickly became the youngest partner in the bank's history. During his years at Lazard, Messier gave advice to French companies about expanding their businesses in the United States. A French journalist said of him at the time, "He was someone who was having an exceptional career. He was growing in power very quickly. He got the reputation of someone who was a very quick thinker" (BBC News, July 19,2002).
THE MAKEOVER OF CGE
Messier's next step in his career was to join the Compagnie Générale des Eaux, or CGE, in 1994 as its chief executive. CGE was an old-fashioned French water company, founded by Emperor Napoleon III in 1853. Its chief businesses in the early 1990s were garbage collection and sewage plant operation. Messier lost little time, however, in remaking CGE after he moved up to thechairman's position in 1996. He began to sell off divisions of the company that he considered outdated and to turn CGE into a media and telecommunications firm. In 1998 the company's name was changed to Vivendi Universal to fit Messier's new image of it.
Messier's first major move after the name change was to purchase a larger stake in Canal Plus, a French television company that producedprograms associated with high culture. This purchase was followed by a wave of acquisitions of media and high-technology companies; at one point in 1999, Messier was completing an average of a deal per month. He became the most famous businessman in France. One analyst compared Messier's compulsive deal-making to substance addiction: "When you control media it's like when you control the world. That'swhat Messier wanted to do" (BBC News, July 19, 2002).
Far from shrinking from the attention of the press, Messier appeared to enjoy the limelight. In 2000 he published his autobiography,J6M.com, whose title was certainly revealing. The six Ms stood for "(Jean)-Marie Messier, moi-même, maître du monde," which can be translated as "Jean-Marie Messier, me myself, master of the world."
TAKING ON THEUNITED STATES
In 2000 Messier made his most ambitious acquisition—one that attempted to break the American hold on the worldwide media industry. He announced a $34-billion merger with Seagram, a liquor company based in Canada that had gradually turned itself into a media giant. He also completed Vivendi's buyout of Canal Plus. The French public approved of Messier's merger with Seagram at thetime because it appeared to be a successful challenge to what they considered American domination of global media. The president of France personally congratulated Messier, and the French-American Chamber of Commerce honored him as their Person of the Year for 2000. At the presentation of the Chamber's award, the French Ambassador to the United States praised Messier as "the prototype of a new...
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