Martin Sorrell resigns as head of WPP

Alicia Cross
April 16, 2018

A company statement said the 73 year old "will be treated as having retired on leaving WPP". I shall miss all of you greatly.

Mr Sorrell is among the most influential advertising professionals globally and also the longest-serving FTSE-100 chief executive, who has run WPP since setting up the business in 1985.

The company added that the allegations did "not involve amounts which are material to WPP", implying that the potential misuse of company funds form‎ed part of the probe. However, when the matter made it into the Wall Street Journal he told friends he thought it was being used as a weapon to force him out, one source said.

He had been under investigation by WPP but had rejected any claim of financial impropriety.

"To me it's not actually about whether he did anything wrong but it's the fact that three years ago the board would not even have gone down this path", the former CEO said.

The British executive built WPP (Wire and Plastic Products) from a wire basket making firm in Kent into the world's largest advertising and marketing firm.

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The acquisitions included the J. Walter Thompson Group, the Young & Rubicam Group and the Ogilvy Group.

Whoever takes over could find keeping such a sprawling empire together an nearly an impossible task: WPP employs more than 200,000 staff in 400 separate ad businesses in more than 3,000 offices in 112 countries. "He is such a competitor and he can get so angry when he loses". Sorrell has denied any wrongdoing.

"He has an astounding grasp of detail if you consider the scale of the enterprise", said another executive who knew Sorrell professionally for many decades. He earned about 200 million pounds ($284 million) over the last five years, largely due to a lucrative performance-related bonus package. So if WPP does well, I do well, and others in the company do well. WPP's shares have lost a third of their value of the past year-far more than rivals facing the same market challenges-as its financial guidance has repeatedly proved too optimistic.

Sorrell will remain with the company for an unspecified time "to assist with the transition" pending the confirmation of his successor or successors.

"As I look ahead, I see that the current disruption is simply putting too much unnecessary pressure on the business", Sorrell said in a statement to WPP staff. "Good fortune and Godspeed to all of you ... now Back to the Future".

The era of advertising Sorrell ushered in has been about scale as a handful of big players - WPP, France's Publicis and Havas, Japan's Dentsu and New York-based Interpublic and Omnicom - have hoovered up smaller agencies.

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