Monsieur Messier Is Back With a Fund

For a man that once posed for a photo spread skating in New York’s Central Park and referred to himself as the “master of the world,” ousted Vivendi Universal chairman and CEO Jean-Marie Messier is being very coy about his latest venture – a private equity shop he recently incorporated in Delaware under the name Messier Partners.

An upcoming Wharton conference in Europe, at which Messier is a keynote speaker, lists the private equity firm as the diminutive French man’s current occupation but little else. The French magazine Liberation called it a hedge fund, while the Los Angeles Times quotes Messier describing it as a “boutique investment bank.” According to the L.A. Times, the firm will focus on private equity investments in media and other sectors.

No information was available on whether Messier will invest his own money or raise a fund. Whatever route he chooses, Messier has a very acquisitive streak that has been fun to watch as long as you weren’t an investor. In the only in-depth interview he’s done in months, the former celebrity hound refused to name his partners or give any details of his new firm when asked by the L.A. Times, saying he preferred to now do business “under the radar.” This from a man who liked to pal around with rockers from the band U2 and other Hollywood glitterati types.

The establishment of Messier Partners is a return to Messier’s roots at Lazard where he started and managed the French investment bank’s leveraged buyouts group in the late 1980s introducing one of the first LBO funds in Europe.

Messier was something of a shopper when he took over Vivendi, going on a $19 billion buying spree that transformed the 150-year old water company into the world’s second largest media company behind AOL Time Warner. But like the world’s largest media company, Vivendi is sagging beneath enormous debt and is now looking for ways to sell off some of the businesses that Messier acquired. It is likely Vivendi will spin off its U.S. entertainment companies, which include Universal Studios, in a future stock offering. The move is an attempt to attract new U.S. investors. While at the helm, Messier watched Vivendi’s stock price plummet 70% before he was shown the door in July. He was succeeded by new CEO Jean-Rene Fourtou.

But that is all behind Messier now (as is the $17 million New York apartment he and his family lived in), and as the first and only employee so far at Messier Partners he is sure to be master of his own little world once again.

As he told the L.A. Times, “I’m not looking back to who betrayed me … I’m looking forward. I have a great future in the U.S. and Europe. I want to build a new story.”

Contact Michael Copeland