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Vivendi execs considered firing Activision Blizzard’s Bobby Kotick over buyout

Above: Bobby Kotick of Activision Blizzard

Image Credit: Jordan Matter

Vivendi’s leaders considered firing Activision Blizzard chief executive Bobby Kotick over matters related to the sale of the French company’s stake in the big video game company.

Court documents show that Vivendi’s leaders wanted to fire Kotick because he refused to approve the sale of Activision Blizzard to groups that did not include Kotick’s own investment group, Bloomberg reports. The documents offer a rare peek inside a boardroom battle in one of the biggest transactions in video game history.

In the lawsuit, filed by a shareholder, emails surfaced that showed the internal discussion. Ultimately, Kotick, who has run Activision for more than 20 years, wasn’t fired. He was able to retain control of the company that makes Call of Duty, Skylanders, and World of Warcraft in the wake of an $8.2 billion deal.

“I really wonder who’s going to fire him,” Vivendi’s then-CEO Jean-Francois Dubos asked in a May 31, 2013, email, Bloomberg said. “Myself, happily. Tomorrow if you want,” replied Philippe Capron, who was both Vivendi’s chief financial officer and Activision’s chairman at the time.

Shareholders allege that Kotick and current Activision Chairman Brian Kelly improperly benefited from the group that bought Vivendi’s stake for $2.34 billion. The shareholder lawsuit says that price was below the market value and that Kotick and Kelly benefited too much from the sale.

Activision’s board of directors “supports the ongoing leadership of the company by Bobby Kotick and Brian Kelly,” Maryanne Lataif, an Activision spokeswoman, said today in an emailed statement to Bloomberg. “The recent transaction restructuring the company’s ownership has received widespread market support.”

Kotick allegedly threatened to quit last year if the directors sold the Vivendi stock without his participation, according to the filings.

“I think Bobby is making the same bet he made three years back and that we wouldn’t dare letting him go,” Vivendi General Counsel Frederic Crepin said in an email in the court papers.

Simon Gillham, a Vivendi spokesman, didn’t immediately return a call for comment from Bloomberg. Capron indicated that Richard Sarnoff, an independent Activision director, was willing to side with Vivendi if it decided to fire Kotick. But Capron said that Kotick’s public image is “very strong.”

“We’ll put pressure on Bobby and if he continues to refuse, the market will understand his departure,” Capron said in the email. Capron left Vivendi in November.

In the end, Vivendi executives complied with Kotick’s wishes. Vivendi sold more of its stake in May for $850 million, leaving it with 41.5 million shares, or 5.8 percent of Activision Blizzard.

 


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