Former WPP Chief Martin Sorrell has indicated that he was pretty much gobsmacked by the flurry of events in March and early April that led to his departure at the holding company after decades at the helm.
In the aftermath of his exit, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times ran stories with lots of details about the company investigation leading up to his departure, including reports that he treated underlings badly and that he may have used company funds to pay for a prostitute.
Sorrell has denied all wrongdoing, and last week at Cannes said that WPP should investigate leaks from the company that ended up in the news reports. (Sorrell, of course, has been known to use the media to maximum advantage himself throughout the course of his 30-plus-year reign at WPP.)
Earlier today WPP confirmed, in response to a new FTstory, that it has hired outside lawyers to investigate leaks of confidential company information in the wake of Sorrell’s departure.
"WPP confirms that one former and two current employees have received a total of six emails between them from an anonymous source hiding behind a ProtonMail account based in Switzerland. WPP has passed these emails to external legal counsel who are providing advice for the benefit of WPP and the three recipients.”
The firm added that "WPP is aware of the original source of the subject matter of the emails, which is a former employee's mobile device used for work and handed in when the employee left the Group.”
All very cryptic, I know, but the FT reported that it too had been the recipient of the emails, which it did not disclose verbatim but apparently aided the publication in its previous reporting on the matter.
And while Sorrell has denied wrongdoing, he has also declined to get into the specifics surrounding his departure, citing a confidentiality agreement.
Lots of questions remain unanswered of course, including how Sorrell defines “wrongdoing.”
Is it wrong to scream at subordinates and call them idiots, as the FT has reported? Well, it’s not illegal, I guess, in most jurisdictions. And some CEOs are known as “screamers.”
Is it wrong to cavort with a prostitute? It’s a loaded question with lots of moral ambiguities, and not a discussion we’ll get into here. (I do know my wife has definite opinions on the subject.)
There’s a pretty unambiguous line, however, when it comes to using your expense account for such extravagances, although WPP hasn’t indicated what it did or didn’t find in the course of its investigation. One of the leaks, of course, was that the probe addressed whether Sorrell used company funds for that purpose.
It will be interesting to see what WPP discovers via this latest investigation. Of course, it may decide not to disclose the details. Wouldn’t be the first time, would it?