Pierre Lescure, the new head of film and TV activities following the Vivendi Seagram merger, is unlikely to impose French culture on Universal Studios if his record collection is anything to go by. Patrick Frater reports.
If Pierre Lescure were re-cast as an animal, he might come back as a bloodhound. Apart from the obvious physical similarities - dark, bagged eyes, a gruff, but elegant exterior and a bark worse than his bite - the new head of film and TV at Vivendi Universal is big on sniffing out new opportunities, direct-to-the-point conversations and hot on loyalty. But for all his qualities as a listener, he is not without an air of doggy disdain.
Lescure's rise to the top echelons of a Franco-American music and media combine could scarcely be more appropriate, given his tastes and his straight down the line approach to business.
A founder executive in 1984 he has served his time and been instrumental in Canal Plus' growth from a rebellious little channel, which 15 years ago few gave any chance of survival, to a pan-European pay-TV leader and France's largest film financier. Defeated in his bid for PolyGram Filmed Entertainment two years ago, he recently shepherded Jean-Marie Messier through negotiations with Seagram that gave Canal Plus the final victory.
While Lescure's role will focus on film and TV it seems likely that he will be a prime mover in the integration of the group. His interest in music and technology is too great for him to pass up the opportunity. A rock fan, who started his career as a music journalist, he now has one of the largest collections in France - reputedly 10,000 pieces of vinyl and 3,000 CDs. Never one to completely tame his teenage passions, Lescure felt compelled to interrupt the merger press conference to halloo Canal Plus content chief, the even more doggy Alain de Greff, and explain to bemused hacks: 'One reason we are so happy today is that I've always been a big fan of American rock and Alain crazy about British rock. Universal brings us both!'
That episode alone should have been enough to dispel any idea that he is anti-American. As should his famous collection of Americana which focuses on jukeboxes, old radios and Bakelite. Lescure has long warned against European companies being rolled over by Americans and he may not find the idea of moving to Los Angeles to his taste, but it is no accident that Canal Plus' broadcast operations are modelled on HBO. And Lescure has consistently been the executive responsible for driving Canal Plus away from its French stronghold into the international arena.
His dogged determination to stay on top as the Canal Plus balloon swelled, is matched by a rare humanity. An inspirational leader, Lescure is faithful to himself and his friends and provokes extreme loyalty in others. Since the merger announcement he has twice had to - presidential style - grab the controls of Canal Plus' internal TV channel and reassure staff in Paris that he is not abandoning ship. The young-at-heart network is not about be turned over to the suits. 'I'm still the boss,' he boomed reassuringly last week.
While Lescure is no longer Paris' most eligible bachelor - he married nearly two years ago and recently adopted a child - the channel today owes much to the amity which Lescure inspired in its top executives years ago. Several of them including Philippe Gildas and Michel Thoulouze who worked with him at the Les Enfants Du Rock radio show even created an informal club - les ADP (les amis de Pierre) - which blurred the line between business and social relations. De Greff, reputedly, even drove Lescure to work.
Lescure has been refreshingly candid about his management abilities. When approached by the legendary Andre Rousselet to join him at the beginning of the Canal Plus adventure he was asked what he brought to the table. Lescure's 'How the hell should I know,' reply was typical of a man of innate self confidence and with enough flair later in life to date Catherine Deneuve.
Since then he has gone on to describe his approach to management as similar to his three-step approach to journalism; get to the story first, establish the facts, form an opinion. Open mindedness remains a key tenet. He may have taken up a Rousselt tip on corporate advancement, and now puffs away on big Cohibas, but that does not mean he has lost his interest in technology and gadgetry.
Things have become more sophisticated since the early days. A shrewd judge of character, Lescure has learned to surround himself with people whose skills complement his own. As such he is unlikely to go trampling all over Universal and is expected to favour American management for the studio. Indeed insiders suggest that he will spend the next six months understanding how Universal works from the inside before making any changes. From then on assume that he will be like a dog with a bone.