There are parts of the Gustavo Martinez story at WPP that are as mysterious as the circumstances surrounding Martin Sorrell’s departure as CEO two months ago.
A little more than a year into his reign as global CEO at JWT Martinez was slapped with a headline-grabbing lawsuit in March 2016 in which he was accused of sexual harassment and retaliation by the agency’s then Chief Communications Officer Erin Johnson.
The allegations were salacious and the press had a field day. Make that many field days. Over months and years. Martinez was accused of inappropriate touching, talking about rape in bizarre ways, making racist and anti-Semitic remarks, even taking bites of Johnson’s apple without permission. He denied the allegations.
The case just settled in April of this year one day after WPP disclosed that its board had launched an investigation into allegations of “personal misconduct” by then-CEO Sorrell, who “unreservedly” denied the claims. Mere coincidence? Doubtful, don’t you think?
One of the ironies in all this is that Martinez outlasted Sorrell at the holding company. Sorrell departed about a week after the company announced the “misconduct” investigation.
As Campaign was the first to report earlier today, Martinez has just left the company, by mutual agreement.
One big unanswered question is why Martinez lasted so long at the holding company. He was out as CEO of JWT about a week after the lawsuit first hit, although WPP and JWT (named as defendants along with Martinez) vigorously defended against the allegations along with Martinez in U.S. District Court for nearly two years.
As Sorrell said at the time, Martinez “had to go.” That is, he had to leave the agency, but for some reason not the holding company. After his departure from JWT, Martinez packed his bags and headed for Spain, where he toiled for WPP for another two years.
Why was that any more appropriate than his continuing to work at JWT? Because the alleged behavior Martinez engaged in is not seen as a big transgression on the Iberian Peninsula?
Or maybe he knew of some skeletons in the proverbial closet. Maybe his contract stipulated that no matter what crazy bat shit and inappropriate behavior he might engage in, the company couldn’t boot him.
And that’s not as crazy as it might seem—check out some of the reports on Harvey Weinstein’s employment contract. Steep fines if the company had to pay settlements for his misconduct. Yes, fines. Slaps on the wrist effectively.
Guess who negotiated that contract? According to The New York Times, it was WPP’s own Lance Maerov, who became a Weinstein Co. board member after WPP invested in the firm a decade ago.
Some day were going to find out the answers to some of these questions. The company is just too big, and interesting, and leaky.