The Fall of Sir Martin & The Rise of Opportunity

Steve’s breakdown: What’s the opposite of a Disturbance in the Force? . . .

Expect a huge flood, nay, Giant Wave of Change to Hit WPP and its Companies. The pent-up energy of 33 years must be insane!

Contact all & do not let this opportunity pass. There will be “plentiful fish upon the earth once the waters subside.”

Fare Thee Well Sir Martin. Fare Thee Well!

LONDON, UK: Sir Martin Sorrell has fallen on his sword resigning from WPP, the world’s largest ad group he has run since founding it over three decades ago, ahead of the findings of an investigation into alleged personal misconduct.

The 73-year-old, who acquired a small Kent-based maker of wire baskets in 1985 and built it into the world’s largest marketing services group, told staff that for him WPP and its future is “more important than a matter of life or death”.

“As I look ahead, I see that the current disruption we are experiencing is simply putting too much unnecessary pressure on the business,” said Sorrell.

“That is why I have decided that in your interest, in the interest of our clients, in the interest of all share owners, both big and small, and in the interest of all our other stakeholders, it is best for me to step aside.

“As a founder, I can say that WPP is not just a matter of life or death, it was, is and will be more important than that. Good fortune and Godspeed to all of you … now Back to the Future.”

Sorrell, one of Britain’s best-known business leaders, and the longest-serving FTSE 100 chief executive, has been under increasing pressure since the allegation of personal misconduct was made public by WPP’s board earlier this month.

WPP’s board, which had appointed independent legal counsel to investigate the allegation, was expected to receive the findings of the investigation at the end of next week.

Roberto Quarta, the WPP chairman, has taken the role of executive chairman until a replacement for Sorrell can be found.

WPP has moved to appoint longstanding WPP executives from ad group Wunderman – Mark Read and Andrew Scott – as joint chief operating officers to run day-to-day operations.

WPP said that Sorrell will be “available to assist with the transition”.

“For the past 33 years, I have spent every single day thinking about the future of WPP,” said Sorrell.

“We have had a succession plan in place for some time. We have weathered difficult storms in the past. And our highly talented people have always won through, always. As some of you know, my family has expanded recently, WPP will always be my baby too.”

Quarta has said there is an “exceptional team of potential candidates” from WPP’s top management, as well as a “constantly refined list of external candidates”. However, investors and analysts believe that, given the scale of WPP, Sorrell’s successor must be an external candidate.

WPP employs over 200,000 staff in more than 400 separate advertising businesses working in over 3,000 offices in 112 countries.

Whoever takes on WPP will find keeping the sprawling empire – autocratically run with an iron hand with what has been dubbed “Sorrellcentricity” – intact perhaps an impossible task.

Observers believe that Sorrell’s departure will have rapid and catastrophic ramifications for WPP and the wider global advertising eco-system.

“Martin falls, WPP falls,” said one top advertising executive at a rival global holding company. “There will be chaos. The industry is not prepared, clients are not prepared. In the short term there will be chaos. The advertising industry is run like show business, it’s all about short-termism and that’s the problem.”

Sorrell has come under increasing pressure in the last year as WPP, which has a market capitalisation of £15bn, has struggled resulting in its share price falling more than a third – wiping £9bn off the value of the business.

WPP recently reported its worst performance since the advertising recession in 2009, which Sorrell described as “not a pretty year”.

Sorrell is one of the UK’s best-paid business leaders earning more than £200m from pay and lucrative – and highly controversial – reward schemes in the last five years alone. His £70m payout in 2015 was one of the biggest in UK corporate history.

In 2012, an investor rebellion in the so-called “shareholder spring” saw 60% of disgruntled share owners vote against Sorrell’s pay deal, a humbling result and at the time one of the largest revolts in UK plc history.

Sorrell and his family trust owns a stake of about 1.8% in WPP, worth about £250m.

Martin Sorrell’s full statement

To everyone at WPP,

For the past 33 years, I have spent every single day thinking about the future of WPP.

Over those decades, our family has grown and prospered.

We welcomed J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy, Young & Rubicam, Grey, 24/7 Real Media, Taylor Nelson Sofres, among so many others.

We created GroupM, including Xaxis and Essence.

We put the focus on Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East and Central Eastern Europe, the home of the next billion consumers. We embarked on the early development of digital capabilities; and the evolution of a firm-wide integrated client and country-centered approach.

Our holding company was recognized as the world’s best and most effective through the Cannes Lions and Effie Awards year after year after year.

We pioneered Atticus Awards for original written thinking…. the WPP Fellowship Awards to recognize promising talent…. the Partnership and Practice Awards for client endorsed integrated market and case studies.

Our Stream digital conferences have attracted the best in the digital business for more than a decade.

Our Annual Sustainability and Pro Bono Reports highlight the unique social, environmental and public policy work that we do day in, day out across the globe.

As I look ahead, I see that the current disruption we are experiencing is simply putting too much unnecessary pressure on the business, our over 200,000 people and their 500,000 or so dependents, and the clients we serve in 112 countries.

That is why I have decided that in your interest, in the interest of our clients, in the interest of all shareowners, both big and small, and in the interest of all our other stakeholders, it is best for me to step aside.

We have had a succession plan in place for some time. A new generation of management, led by Mark Read and Andrew Scott (who have each been at WPP for approximately 20 years), are well qualified and experienced in the Board’s opinion, to deal with the geographic and technological opportunities and challenges our industry faces.

We have weathered difficult storms in the past. And our highly talented people have always won through, always.

Nobody, either direct competitors or newly-minted ones can beat the WPP team, as long as you work closely together, whether by client and/or country or digitally.

In the coming period, I will be available to the Board and any of you, should you want help with anything, anywhere. I shall miss all of you greatly. You have given me such excitement and energy and I wanted to thank you for everything you have done and will do for WPP and me.

As some of you know, my family has expanded recently, WPP will always be my baby too.

As a Founder, I can say that WPP is not just a matter of life or death, it was, is and will be more important than that. Good fortune and Godspeed to all of you…now Back to the Future.

Thank you

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sir Martin’s career:

1975

It may not seem like it but Sir Martin Sorrell had a career before WPP. His affair with advertising began as Saatchi & Saatchi’s first finance director

1985

Sorrell made his first step toward global domination at the age of 40, investing in a small Kent-based maker of wire baskets called Wire & Plastic Products

1987

Sorrell announces himself on the global stage by buying J Walter Thompson, the world’s oldest ad agency and an iconic US brand for $566m. In 1988 he listed on NASDAQ exchange in New York

1989

WPP’s closest call with death came following an audacious debt-fuelled move to buy Ogilvy & Mather for $864m

1991

Sorrell paid too much for O&M and as the recession-hit WPP almost went out of business, a profit warning in 1990 sent its shares tumbling from 650p in 1989 to 115p. The company made a life-saving financial restructure but the close call damaged Sorrell’s reputation as a deal maker

2005

Sorrell buys Ed Meyer’s Grey Global for £845m

2007

Sorrell launches a libel action against two former colleagues for allegedly labelling him and a female executive “the mad dwarf and the nympho schizo” while circulating a “vicious” email image of them. Sorrell accepts a settlement of £120,000 damages

2008

He moves WPP’s tax domicile to Ireland in protest at the prospect of “double taxation” of overseas profits – once abroad and once again in the UK. It moves back to the UK five years later after the government enacted legislation covering the taxation of foreign profits

2012

The rising unrest at unbridled boardroom pay boiled over into a series of investor revolts, with Sorrell one of its most high-profile scalps. This was the year of the biggest of a series WPP investor rebellions with 60% rejecting his annual pay package

2015

Sorrell’s £70.4m pay out is one of the biggest pay deals in UK corporate history. By the end of 2016 he has made more than £200m over a five year period

2017

WPP endures its worst annual performance since the advertising recession of 2009, sending its share price tumbling by more than a third

2018

Sorrell’s iron grip running WPP comes under threat after the board hires a law firm to investigate allegation of personal misconduct. He stepped down on 14 April

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