The biggest event in adland over the past few years was undoubtedly the ousting of WPP founder and long-serving CEO Sir Martin Sorrell in 2018. This followed an injudicious trip to Shepherd Market, a lively area of London’s Mayfair, then home to WPP.
WPP has since revived somewhat and Sorrell has gone on to form S4 Capital, currently valued at about a third of his former company. Somehow or other you feel the story isn’t over yet.
Here we go then, WPP founder and long-serving CEO Sir Martin Sorrell has resigned in advance of the marcoms giant releasing the findings of its investigation into allegations of “personal misconduct.”
He’s to be succeeded, in the short term at least, by Wunderman CEO (and former main board director) Mark Read and Europe COO Andrew Scott as joint COOs, with chairman Roberto Quarta moving up to executive chairman (the boss) while a new CEO is appointed.
Sorrell (below) released the following statement last night (Saturday):
To everyone at WPP
For the past 33 years, I have spent every single day thinking about the future of WPP.
Over those decades, our family has grown and prospered.
We welcomed J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy, Young & Rubicam, Grey, 24/7 Real Media, Taylor Nelson Sofres, among so many others.
We created GroupM, including Xaxis and Essence.
We put the focus on Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East and Central Eastern Europe, the home of the next billion consumers. We embarked on the early development of digital capabilities; and the evolution of a firm-wide integrated client and country-centered approach.
Our holding company was recognized as the world’s best and most effective through the Cannes Lions and Effie Awards year after year after year.
We pioneered Atticus Awards for original written thinking…. the WPP Fellowship Awards to recognize promising talent…. the Partnership and Practice Awards for client endorsed integrated market and case studies.
Our Stream digital conferences have attracted the best in the digital business for more than a decade.
Our Annual Sustainability and Pro Bono Reports highlight the unique social, environmental and public policy work that we do day in, day out across the globe.
As I look ahead, I see that the current disruption we are experiencing is simply putting too much unnecessary pressure on the business, our over 200,000 people and their 500,000 or so dependents, and the clients we serve in 112 countries.
That is why I have decided that in your interest, in the interest of our clients, in the interest of all shareowners, both big and small, and in the interest of all our other stakeholders, it is best for me to step aside.
We have had a succession plan in place for some time. A new generation of management, led by Mark Read and Andrew Scott (who have each been at WPP for approximately 20 years), are well qualified and experienced in the Board’s opinion, to deal with the geographic and technological opportunities and challenges our industry faces.
We have weathered difficult storms in the past. And our highly talented people have always won through, always.
Nobody, either direct competitors or newly-minted ones can beat the WPP team, as long as you work closely together, whether by client and/or country or digitally.
In the coming period, I will be available to the Board and any of you, should you want help with anything, anywhere. I shall miss all of you greatly. You have given me such excitement and energy and I wanted to thank you for everything you have done and will do for WPP and me.
As some of you know, my family has expanded recently, WPP will always be my baby too.
As a Founder, I can say that WPP is not just a matter of life or death, it was, is and will be more important than that. Good fortune and Godspeed to all of you…now Back to the Future.
More a whimper than a bang then although a dignified one.
Nobody expected Sorrell’s reign to end in such a way although we speculated that he might not see out the year as WPP’s fortunes declined and pressure from the board and investors mounted.
Read and Scott, who found himself propelled into the public gaze when he had the misfortune to host the WPP table at the notorious President’s Club dinner in London, may get the job(s) full time. Quarta is going to earn his money as he looks into the entrails of the company.
No doubt there’ll be more.
WPP says: In accordance with his at-will employment agreement, Sir Martin will be treated as having retired on leaving WPP, as detailed in the Directors’ Compensation Policy. His share awards will be pro-rated in line with the plan rules and will vest over the next five years, to the extent Group performance targets are achieved.
Roberto Quarta said: “Sir Martin has been the driving force behind the expansion of WPP to create the global leader in marketing services. During this time, the Company has been successful because it has valued and nurtured outstanding talent at every level – within and well beyond our leadership teams. On behalf of the Board I would like to recognise these achievements and thank Sir Martin for his commitment to the business over more than three decades.”
So it looks as though there’s yet more money for Sorrell despite him earning over £200m over the last five years. The ghost remains at the feast.
As to the results of the investigation, it looks as though WPP is trying to draw a line under these but it will be difficult not to reveal them as a sum of money appears to be involved; albeit one that, according to the board, is “not material.” It all looks a bit cosy.
WPP’s shares were heading south in the first morning of post-Sorrell trading (Monday), down nearly five per cent.