Beverly Hills, Nov. 22: Billionaire Marvin Davis says he is not just kicking the tyres.
Only hours after Vivendi Universal said it rebuffed his initial $ 13 billion offer, the onetime owner of 20th Century Fox Film Corp. said he was determined to pursue Universal’s entertainment empire, including its studios, theme parks and recording company.
Davis on Thursday was clearly relishing the limelight, even though some privately questioned whether he was seriously interested in Vivendi or just doing what has become his M.O. of sorts—sniffing around potential ventures, stirring up headlines and then abruptly walking away.
At Spago in Beverly Hills, Davis sat at his regular table in his custom-made oversize armchair, lunching on gazpacho with former Universal Studios co-chairman Brian Mulligan, the man considered the architect behind the takeover proposal. As Davis coyly dodged questions about his plans for Vivendi—“I’ll let you know”—one fellow diner and well-wisher was former President Clinton, who circled back through the eatery for a handshake and chitchat at Davis’ table.
Davis and his associates dismissed those who are dismissing him as a non-player, saying the $ 13 billion deal he pitched for a majority stake in the entertainment assets was a negotiator’s starting point. The 77-year-old oilman-turned-dealmaker called it a “full and fair” offer for the assets and said he planned to meet Vivendi executives in January to begin more earnest discussions.
“Marvin’s a great entrepreneur. He simply wants to be a mogul again,” said Viacom Inc. chairman Sumner Redstone, who considers Davis a close friend. Redstone said he believed Davis’ bid for Universal was serious. “He wants to get back into the action,” Redstone said. “He loves the business. But his desire for action will not lead him to do something that’s not economically sound.”
Vivendi’s US-traded shares jumped $ 2.28, or 2 per cent, to close at $ 14 on the New York Stock Exchange as investors were encouraged by Davis’ show of interest, which analysts said also could attract other potential suitors. The offer, said Christopher Dixon, media analyst at UBS Warburg, “underscores the extraordinary value of Universal’s portfolio of entertainment.”
It all complicates CEO Jean-Rene Fourtou’s carefully calibrated plans to restructure Vivendi’s US entertainment assets. Last week, Vivendi announced that Fourtou would help current entertainment chief Barry Diller oversee a reorganised Universal group. If Vivendi rejects Davis’ bid, sources said, Fourtou will face pressure to expedite plans to spin off the US entertainment assets and take them public.