The Fix-It Man

Photograph for TIME by PATRICK SWIRC/CORBIS OUTLINE

TRIUMPHANT: Vivendi CEO Fourtou basks in the glory of giving the giant French conglomerate a second chance

When Jean-René Fourtou took over as chief executive of Vivendi Universal on July 3, 2002, he says, he planned to carry out "a calm diagnosis" of the company's many problems. Instead, he was plunged into a maelstrom. Two days after his appointment, Moody's ratings agency announced that it was considering downgrading the conglomerate for the third time in three months, reducing its credit rating to junk status and thus seriously imperiling its finances. Fourtou's predecessor, the celebrity CEO Jean-Marie Messier, had overinflated Vivendi close to the bursting point; his legacy included opaque accounts, a huge pile of debt — €35 billion,...

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