Edgar Bronfman Jr, one of the architects of the merger that created Vivendi Universal, is to stand down as executive vice chairman of the Franco-US group. Bronfman will remain vice chairman, but in a non executive role. He said there are no plans for him or the Bronfman family, which owned Seagram's, to scale back their shareholding.

Bronfman's surprise move comes only a day after Gerald Levin announced his departure from AOL Time Warner. In both cases the executives said they felt that the integration of the constituent companies into the new global giants was going well.

"Obviously, this was a very difficult decision, but I believe it is the right choice for me and the right time for the company. Our integration has proceeded rapidly and smoothly, with clearly measurable results," said Bronfman in a prepared statement.

Bronfman exercised an option in his contract that allows him to stand down on the first anniversary of the merger's completion. He says he will seek new business opportunities, but that he has no specific projects. "Given all that we have achieved, this is a good time for me to step back from my executive responsibilities and take some time to consider my next step. At this point, I have no firm plans, other than to remain an active and constructive Board member."

Jean-Marie Messier, Vivendi Universal chairman and chief executive, said: ""I deeply regret Edgar's decision, but fully understand his wishes. Edgar has, since the beginning, been my friend and partner in creating this company'. Edgar's role was tremendously significant in integrating our companies."