My Stocks 2003 selection, British advertising and marketing giant WPP Group
The stakes are perhaps highest for Havas, a French concern that finds itself in a similar position to Grey -- a midsize advertising company in an age when the industry has set its lot with a few megasize full-service companies and a myriad of tiny specialists. Should Grey go -- as expected -- to one of the other potential bidders, Havas is likely to find itself in a position where it becomes the target of acquirers, stuck as it is between the giants -- WPP, Interpublic
Seventy-seven-year-old Chairman Edward Meyer controls Grey Global; he is the second-largest shareholder, with 13% of the outstanding shares, behind Ariel Capital, with a 33% stake. Meyer is known for marching to the beat of his own drum, and even though he has made it known that Grey Global is up for sale, when he hired Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase several months ago, he has no intentions of retiring even after the sale.
For WPP, the attraction of Grey Global, beyond adding another big feather to its acquisition cap, has to do with Grey's long-standing relationship with a single gilt-edged client: Procter & Gamble
The private venture firm, on the other hand, looks at Grey Global as a flabby company that it would take over, trim expenses, and dress up for resale in a few years. When it would be resold, it's nearly a sure thing that WPP would be among the few candidates to buy once again. It's a near certainty that CEO Sir Martin Sorrell would like to avoid having to pay that premium. Further, one of the people working with Hellman & Friedman is Michael Dolan, who once ran WPP subsidiary Young & Rubicam and with whom Sorrell's relationship was well-known to be, at best, terse. His non-compete agreement with WPP expired in June.
Havas would like to bid, but as of today, its board meeting is at a standstill. An activist shareholder, Vincent Bollore, owns more than 5% of the company's shares and is attempting to block Havas' bid on the grounds that the company's financial position is too precarious to pull it off, and as such, the bid is not in the best interests of shareholders.
Bill Mann owns shares of Procter & Gamble.