WPP and its former CEO Martin Sorrell butted heads again last week with Sorrell telling CNBC how “concerned” he was over WPP’s performance, while the holding company leaked word that Sorrell owed the firm at least $250,000 for inappropriate expenses and possibly more.
Sorrell took the first swipe in a CNBC interview from Davos, where he said he was “very concerned” about WPP’s progress toward its goal of getting back on track growth wise.
"Obviously, it's not been an easy period over the last six months or so in terms of major clients at WPP. But having said that, we're very focused on that progress," he told the network.
What Sorrell didn’t mention was that things started going sideways while he was at the helm of WPP. In his last year in charge the firm’s stock, it took a beating amid a no-growth period. He was forced out in April of last year after company allegations of “personal misconduct,” allegations that Sorrell denies.
WPP returned the favor later in the week, leaking a story to TheWall Street Journal that Sorrell filed inappropriate expenses while he was still at the company, including travel and lodging fees for a family vacation.
WPP said it was looking further into expense reports by its former CEO. Sorrell’s camp issued a statement saying all of Sorrell’s expenses at WPP had previously been examined and approved. Nevertheless, Sorrell has agreed to repay the expenses that WPP tagged as illegitimate.
Last week’s contretemps were just the latest between the two sides since Sorrell’s departure from the holding company.
They also butted heads during their bidding for MediaMonks last year, a competition won by Sorrell and his new firm S-4 Capital. WPP charged Sorrell with violating the terms of his separation agreement, asserting Sorrell used information known to him while he was still running the holding company to help facilitate the deal.
Sorrell denied any breach of the terms.
And so it goes. Another tit for tat. Too bad that they can’t just completely sever ties and move on. But for now, Sorrell and his former employer are stuck with each other, given Sorrell’s roughly 1.4% stake in the firm.
That’s a stake Sorrell probably isn’t anxious to sell now, given that WPP stock declined more than 30% in each of the last two years. Relations between the two sides will likely remain a bit of a sticky wicket for the foreseeable future.