WPP confirmed late Tuesday that its board of directors has launched an investigation into the conduct of its long-time CEO, Martin Sorrell.
The company issued this short statement a little more than an hour after The Wall Street Journal posted a story on the development:
“The Board of WPP has appointed independent counsel to conduct an investigation in response to an allegation of personal misconduct against Sir Martin Sorrell, Chief Executive Officer of WPP. The investigation is ongoing. The allegations do not involve amounts which are material to WPP.”
The Journalreport indicated the investigation was looking into Sorrell’s possible misuse of company assets as well as allegations of improper personal conduct.
Details were scant, and the company -- at least for now -- is not revealing much, other than the fact that an investigation is ongoing.
Sorrell, 73, has led the UK-based WPP for more than 30 years, building what was initially a shopping basket maker into the world’s largest advertising agency holding company. Along the way, he orchestrated takeovers (hostile or otherwise) of numerous blue-chip American ad agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy & Mather, Young & Rubicam, Grey and others.
The company has struggled lately on the growth front, turning in its worst year in a decade in 2017 with financial guidance that does not foresee much improvement until at least 2019.
The company’s American Depository Receipts on the New York Stock Exchange were up slightly today, but shortly after the Journal story hit, plunged nearly $4 to $75 in after-hours trading.
The company has been criticized in the past for not having a viable management succession plan in place. Roberto Quarta, who became chairman of the holding company in 2015 (succeeding Philip Lader) has said on several occasions that creating such a plan is a key priority for the company.
This story has been updated.