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Jonty Bloom: The corridors of power ...

A couple of recent stories have got me thinking about the differences between the American and European ways of doing business.

I was in Dusseldorf recently and was reminded of my time there covering the takeover of Mannesman by Vodafone. At the time I got egg on my face by saying that a hostile takeover for a German company wouldn’t succeed.

Sir Chris Gent cemented his reputation by securing the deal. But now Vodafone is languishing in the markets and the mobile phone revolution is looking a bit tired.

Many companies, not just Vodafone, have paid a fortune for new European licences with no guarantee that anyone wants the new services on sale.

This is either a rare case of governments outwitting the markets by making them pay billions in a speculative frenzy, or a massive mistake. Europe’s governments may have taken so much from the mobile phone industry that it damages, or destroys, the lead the industry has over America.

Or then again there is the decision by the European Commission on Microsoft, due in the near future. In the US, Microsoft has been able to keep its media player programme on its latest Windows package. This is despite claims by its rivals that the Seattle giant is gaining an unfair advantage.

The US authorities have given Microsoft the go-ahead but if Brussels finds against it, it may have to change its software.

The above may explain why Vivendi is almost always in the headlines.

Its boss Jean-Marie Messier is trying to manage a transatlantic empire.

Amid accusations that he is selling out French art and language, he is struggling to manage a company which bridges two different business cultures.

He is finding it tough going.

The French language may have given us laissez faire but as a way of doing business, the Americans have adopted it as their own. In Europe life is far more complicated. The Atlantic is still very wide, as anyone trying to do business across it can testify.

  • Jonty Bloom is a business news reporter at the BBC.

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