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November 14, 1994

FRENCH SIGNALLING COMPANY CSEE SEEN TAKING A MAJOR STAKE IN BULL – TO DESCARPENTRIES’ DISPLEASURE?

By CBR Staff Writer

At the same time that NEC Corp has been reported willing, finally, to increase its stake in French computer maker Compagnie des Machines Bull SA, the French business press is abuzz with talk of another potential investor, who would not be one that chief executive Jean-Marie Descarpentries might choose. Recent reports in Le Monde’s financial page and La Tribune-Defosses indicate that Quadral, the holding company for electronic signalling company CSEE, Compagnie de Signaux et d’Equipements Electroniques, would like to become a principal shareholder. CSEE, which has annual turnover of about $600m, produces signalling equipment for the transport – railway signalling and computerised motorway toll stations, telecommunications and defense sectors. Its shares are quoted on the Paris stock market. According to Le Monde, Quadral’s interest in Bull dates back about 15 months to the era of Bernard Pache, the former coal mines supremo drafted in to take the helm at Bull, when Yazid Sabeg of Quadral proposed setting up a joint systems integration company. When Pache was replaced by the politicians with Descarpentries, the plan was aborted, but as the privatisation project for Bull took shape this year, the paper says that Quadral went back to pursue its original objective. The paper quotes a source close to the Bull affair at Quadral as saying, The maths are simple. One can guess that Bull will be valued at between 2,500m and 3,000m francs. It is sufficient, therefore, to put 1 billion on the table [to be a major shareholder]. That figure is under $200m. The source goes on to say that Quadral, which has only $200m in cash of its own, would be able to count on other partners. In any case, a proposal by a company so inexperienced in the exigencies of the international information technology market is obviously not the kind of strategic partner Descarpentries is looking for. Still, one wonders whether the state, faced with a serious lack of any other viable industrial buyers, might just decide that one company’s money is as good as another’s.

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