04 January 2007

On the Rob….

CFO Europe’s cover story this month is the ‘power play’ that has taken place at VNU, the troubled Dutch media group. The magazine points to the messy scrap as 2006’s prime example of ‘activist’ shareholders rising against management.

It’s a cracking article, even though some of the financial world jargon is a little alien to tech PRs. All those crazy European names make it hard going too (Knight Vinke is a personal favourite – it sounds like the brand of something that retails from vending machines in gents’ toilets).

Most fun of all is Rob Ruijter, VNU’s CFO since early 2005, taking a typically direct Dutch approach when distancing himself from recently departed CEO Rob van den Bergh.

“Rob – and this is a personality issue – never had a great relationship with his investors. He had little sympathy for young people with these laptops doing their models, and that showed. For you not to like it is one thing; for you to show it is another.”

Don’t need double spacing to read between those lines.

What is interesting is that this ‘poster-child’ of European shareholder activism hasn’t been covered in the relevant VNU journals; Accountancy Age or Financial Director. Indeed “shareholder activism” produces very few returns on the online versions and neither mentions anything to do with VNU’s tortuous M&A trail. Whether this is more reflective of management diktat, journo self-censorship or VNU’s search engine is not clear.

As far as the world of tech PR is concerned, the only relevant thing in all this is that the bit of VNU we deal with (Business Media Europe) has been raffled off to 3i, a venture capital group. Although the ‘VNU cuts 10% of jobs’ headlines don’t apply to BME, it’s still a potentially worrying time for the journos we work with (especially Boomerang Thomson if ‘last in, first out’ is applied).

While on the 3i acquisition, the 3i news release quotes Erik Hoekstra, who is described as the ‘prospective CEO of BME.’ Bravely risking the carrot dangling in front of him he says:

“We are delighted to work with 3i. They exhibited compelling sector knowledge right from the start, coupled with a proven ability to operate alongside us in the various European markets where BME is active. We are convinced of the exciting growth potential of BME, and in partnership with 3i we are looking forward to making it happen.”

So there’s a retort for the next time a VNU journo complains about a generic “we’re delighted” quote in a client’s news release.

Right at the end of the news release it mentions that Rob van den Bergh acted as a Senior Adviser to 3i during the transaction. Wonder how Rob Ruijter felt about that?

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