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Vivendi Universal Head Resigns - 2002-07-02

The French head of the multi-national conglomerate Vivendi Universal says he is resigning, ending days of speculation.

Vivendi Universal's president, Jean-Marie Messier, told the French newspaper Le Figaro that he is resigning because he could not continue leading a company with a divided board of directors. His successor is expected to be named at a company board meeting on Wednesday.

Reports have been swirling for days about Mr. Messier's departure from the sprawling international enterprise, which owns French, Canadian, and American companies. Vivendi is the world's second largest media company with a movie studio, music company, and television networks. It also owns water and beverage companies.

Vivendi is burdened by a massive debt - much of it accumulated through expensive company acquisitions that took place under Mr. Messier's stewardship. Its stock has plunged, especially after the company's bond rating was downgraded to the "junk" category.

But in his interview with Le Figaro, Mr. Messier was unapologetic about his record.

Among his few regrets, he said, was having done too much, too quickly. He said he also regretted not having explained what he called his "winning strategy" more fully.

Vivendi's European and North American board is expected to accept Mr. Messier's resignation. Several reports say his successor will likely be a 63-year-old French business executive Jean-Rene Fourtou, who has a reputation for restructuring ailing companies.

Mr. Messier told Le Figaro that he decided to resign after being assured that his successor would be French and not North American.