End Of An Era At WPP As Sorrell Steps Down

Well, unless you completely disengage from work over the weekend (does anyone do that anymore?) you’ve heard the news that WPP founder and CEO (for 33 years) Martin Sorrell has resigned.

Technically, the company is treating it as a retirement -- and Sorrell will receive all due benefits under his contract, including potential bonuses over the next five years contingent on the company achieving certain targets. He will also be around to assist with the transition.

The end for Sorrell comes after a somewhat curious investigation by the company’s board of directors (handled by an outside law firm) looking into an allegation about personal misconduct on the part of Sorrell.

The allegation remains a mystery, and taints one of the most brilliant careers in the history of adland. Anyone reading this knows Sorrell’s story and what he has accomplished at WPP, transforming it into the world’s largest advertising holding company.

Shame on the board for creating this cloud unnecessarily.



When the end came, a little more than a week after announcing that Sorrell was under investigation, the company said only: “The previously announced investigation into an allegation of misconduct against Sir Martin has concluded. The allegation did not involve amounts that are material.”

Well I guess that settles that then!

Did the investigation find that Sorrell did indeed commit the alleged misconduct? Who’s knows, the company declined to say. The fact that Sorrell is no longer CEO would imply the answer is yes. If that’s the case, why didn’t the board and the company just say so?

And just what exactly was it that Sorrell did to prompt the allegation and the investigation, and presumably, the resignation? The company so far has not explained. And that’s just silly — it’s just a matter of time before word gets out. Why all the pretense?

Nope — all we know is that the allegation did not involve amounts that are material. So we’re left to presume that Sorrell’s misconduct involved amounts of something — cash or equivalents probably, but we don’t really know — that weren’t material to the company. Usually “material” in that context refers to significant financial impact that might make a shareholder re-evaluate his or her holdings in the company.

So what did he do? Use a company jet to take the family on vacation? Probably not. That sounds like something a small timer like Miles Nadal, former head of MDC Partners, would do.

Was the misconduct — if it actually occurred — intentional? Inadvertent? A set up? If it was outright dishonesty, well, knighthoods have been rescinded for that. For the company to put this cloud over Sir Martin’s career is a bit disgraceful, I think.

And usually, I believe, immaterial matters are matters a company isn’t required to disclose. So why disclose it?

Because the company just went through one of the crappiest years in its history? And the stock took a beating and investors want blood? So the board concocted this lame scheme to make it look like it was finally on the succession case?

Company chairman Roberto Quarta has been talking about the company’s urgent pursuit of a succession plan practically since he was appointed in 2015. Now that Sorrell is gone, it will be interesting to see how long it takes the company to find a new CEO.

It’s likely  the two interim COOa — Mark Read and Andrew Scott — are internal candidates. Read has often been mentioned as a potential Sorrell successor.

That said, it’s still a bit sad to see such a brilliant career end on such a sour note.


2 comments about "End Of An Era At WPP As Sorrell Steps Down".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, April 16, 2018 at 12:48 p.m.

    But it might be even more "sad" if the real reason were laid out in glorious journalistic detail. Maybe it's what Martin wanted.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 16, 2018 at 4:30 p.m.

    These big shops need to be broken up into small pieces and never be allowed to be so all encompassing and powerful.

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