London-based media agency holding company Aegis Group today declined comment on reports that it is conducting a strategic review of business options such as divesting its research arm Synovate and an alliance with Paris-based Havas.
Word of the process comes less than two months after the departure of CEO Robert Lerwill, a staunch advocate for keeping the company, parent of media shop Carat and digital firm Isobar, intact and independent.
Lerwill rebuffed repeated overtures from French business magnate Vincent Bollore to forge closer ties between Aegis and Havas. Bollore is the biggest shareholder in both companies, and chairman of Havas. Lerwill was ousted in late November  by Aegis chairman John Napier after the two clashed on the future direction of the firm. Napier succeeded Lord Colin Sharman as Aegis chairman in July.
News of the strategic review was reported yesterday in London's Sunday Times. An Aegis rep said today that the company had no comment on the report.
Analysts have considered Aegis effectively in play since Bollore began acquiring shares of the firm in 2005. He quickly became the company's largest shareholder with a 29 percent stake. Late in 2005 both WPP and Publicis separately considered acquiring Aegis, but ultimately dropped the efforts.
Bollore remains a 29 percent shareholder in Aegis. Under U.K. law, if his stake surpasses 30 percent, he would have to make a bid to buy the company outright. During Lerwill's tenure as CEO, Bollore unsuccessfully sought board representation on four separate occasions, but each time was voted down by a majority of investors on management's recommendation.
Bollore has not formally sought board seats since Lerwill's departure, although relations between Bollore and Napier are said to be friendlier than those between Bollore and Lerwill.
According to the Times report, Napier, who is also chairman of insurer Royal & Sun Alliance, has asked Merrill Lynch to conduct the strategic review.