Eurobosses: The Fix-It Man

He pulled Vivendi back from the brink of ruin. Here's why Jean-Rene Fourtou is the sharpest CEO in Europe right now

When Jean-Rene 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 threatened to reduce Vivendi's credit rating to junk status and thus seriously imperil its finances. Fourtou's predecessor, the celebrity CEO Jean-Marie Messier, had leveraged Vivendi to the bursting point. His legacy included opaque accounts, a huge pile of debt--$34.5 billion, of which $5.5 billion had to be repaid within nine months--and no cash.

Within a week, Fourtou secured...

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