MILAN (Reuters) - Top shareholder Vivendi (VIV.PA) has no plans to merge Telecom Italia (TLIT.MI) with Orange (ORAN.PA) nor to make it French, Chief Executive Arnaud de Puyfontaine told newspaper La Stampa in an interview published on Saturday.
Telecom Italia (TIM) named Vivendi’s Amos Genish as its general manager for operations on Friday as the French media giant tightened its grip on Italy’s biggest phone group, where it is the largest shareholder with a 24 percent stake.
De Puyfontaine, who also serves as TIM’s executive chairman and its chief executive ad interim, said Vivendi was not an invader, but after investing more than 4 billion euros ($4.7 billion) was committed to the former state monopoly.
“Our investment in Telecom Italia is strategic and long term,” he told the newspaper, but at the same time sought to quash growing concerns about the French media group increasingly calling the shots at the Italian firm.
“TIM will never be French: it is and will remain an Italian company.”
Vivendi, led by billionaire Vincent Bollore, has taken a more hands-on approach to Telecom Italia since winning a majority of board seats earlier this year and appointing de Puyfontaine as chairman.
Clashes with Vivendi have also contributed to the early departure of TIM Chief Executive Flavio Cattaneo, who is the second CEO to leave the company in less than two years after locking horns with the top investor.
The arrival of Genish has fueled expectation among some fund investors of strategic deals, including a possible merger with a bigger competitor.
Telecom Italia has long been seen as a takeover target because it is smaller than many of its European rivals and it has first-mover advantage in Italy’s ultrafast broadband market.
However, de Puyfontaine said a tie-up was not on the cards.
“A merger with Orange? I want to be clear: it will not happen. Telecom Italia will be a consolidator, not the prey.”
But he is open to discussing the idea of separating TIM’s fixed-line network - an asset valued by analysts at up to 15 billion euros - to create a neutral platform open to all or to collaborating with others for the roll-out of an ultrafast broadband network across Italy, he said.
“We have a pragmatic approach,” he said.
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Reporting by Agnieszka Flak; editing by Jason Neely