Nouveau riche, old guard, established elite: agency and the leadership of Vivendi Universal

N. Chabrak, Russell Craig, Nabyla Daidj

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We respond to the call for a more balanced view of agency (Tourish, 2014: 88) by presenting an account of the forced resignation of Jean-Marie Messier as CEO of the major French company, Vivendi Universal, in 2002. Messier’s ousting arose from a struggle for board control involving an exercise of power that was influenced strongly by kinship relationships, interlocking directorships, and business alliances; and by the interplay between a nouveau riche (Messier), an influential old guard shareholder family (the Bronfmans), and an established elite (of prominent representatives of French business). Collusion between the French business establishment and the Bronfman family created a coalition of interest and a locus of control that managerial and agency theories explain inadequately. We highlight the potential for a reading of class relationships in terms of structuration to foster better understanding of the complexities involved when the board of a major corporation decides to support, or withdraw support for, their CEO. We highlight several context- specific structures and mechanisms that were influential in determining corporate control and CEO agency.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)398–419
Issue number4
Early online date28 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2016


  • Agency
  • board
  • control
  • elites
  • kinship
  • networks
  • structuration theory


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