The year-long family feud which threatened the future of the Publicis dynasty has been settled, with the younger daughter of founder Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet selling her stake in the company late last week.
While earning herself a reported $205 million for her shares in Somarel, the Publicis holding company, as well as those held directly in the French agency, Michele Bleustein-Blanchet agreed to a settlement which guarantees the founding family will retain control of the world's 13th-largest agency through her sister, Elisabeth Badinter, nonexecutive chairman of the board of Groupe Publicis.
The deal was hammered out by Maurice Levy, Publicis CEO. The accord calls for Badinter to buy a percentage of the shares sold by her sister, as well as those of a second Bleustein-Blanchet descendant, Nicolas Rachline. Together, the two hold nearly 45 percent of Somarel. The result gives Badinter near-absolute voting control over agency business.
The remaining Bleustein-Blanchet and Rachline shares will be split into equal parts, with half--roughly the equivalent of 500,000 Publicis shares--made available for sale to all Publicis employees. The rest will be bought by a consortium of friendly French financial companies.
Before the deal, the family controlled roughly 62 percent of Publicis through Somarel and direct agency holdings; the remaining shares of the company were publicly traded on the Paris stock exchange.
The deal Levy brokered staved off a possible purchase of Michele Bleustein-Blanchet's shares by True North, Publicis' former worldwide alliance partner. Sources said Bleustein-Blanchet approached True North at least twice to discuss selling shares. Levy claimed it was True North which contacted Bleustein-Blanchet. "She rejected the offers," he said. Neither Michle Bleustein-Blanchet nor Elisabeth Badinter could be reached for comment.
"I am relieved," Levy said. "This whole episode has been a huge pain in the neck."