Vivendi emerged from Compagnie Générale des Eaux (CGE), a company founded in the mid-19th century. Created by Imperial decree on December 14, 1853, CGE originally supplied water to Lyons, Nantes and Paris, then subsequently Venice (1880), Constantinople (1882) and Porto (1883). The company later on diversified into numerous businesses such as waste management, environmental services, energy, transport, construction, property and communications. Notably, in 1983 in partnership with Havas, it set up Canal+ that was launched a year later. Then came SFR in 1987 and Cegetel in 1996.

Guy Dejouany, who became the company’s eighth chairman in 1976, successfully carried out this expansion and internationalization of CGE. In 1990, with 1,600 subsidiaries and 173,000 employees, revenue exceeded the FFr100 billion mark, of which more than 25% was generated abroad.

In 1996, Jean-Marie Messier became chairman and CEO and developed in particular the communications businesses.

In 1998, the company, which wanted to rid itself of its old name linked to the water business, changed its name to Vivendi. It then had two major divisions: communications and the environment.