Exit of WPP advertising guru Sir Martin Sorrell shrouded in secrecy

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Sir Martin Sorrell the CEO of WPP a $20 billion-dollar communications group has abruptly resigned, at this stage it's not know whether the move was voluntary after his board commenced an investigation into an allegation of "personal misconduct".

Whoever takes over could find keeping such a sprawling empire together an nearly an impossible task: WPP employs more than 200,000 staff in 400 separate ad businesses in more than 3,000 offices in 112 countries. The allegations do not involve amounts which are material to WPP as the holding company.

"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".

In a statement, the firm said: "The previously announced investigation into an allegation of misconduct against Sir Martin has concluded".

"Martin changed an industry inventing a lot of what became the model for the big holding company along the way", says David Jones, the former global chief executive of Havas.

Sorrell, who has led the firm for 33 years, said it was "in the interests of the business" to step down.

Sorrell, 73, said in a statement that he was sad to leave, with WPP having been his passion and focus for more than three decades.

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Sir Martin said last week that he rejected the allegation "unreservedly but recognise that the company has to investigate it".

Sir Martin said a succession plan had been in place "for some time" and a "new generation of management" were well placed to "deal with the geographic and technological opportunities and challenges" faced by the industry.

Sorrell, who is among the highest paid British executives, earned over $100 million in 2015 and 2016.

The acquisitions included the J. Walter Thompson Group, the Young & Rubicam Group and the Ogilvy Group.

It largely outperformed its peers Omnicom, Publicis and IPG in the years that followed the financial crisis as the group pitched aggressively for new work.

The migration of advertising online and the encroachment into market research of consultancies such as Accenture have compounded the pressures.

The company said Sorrell would be available to assist with the transition, and the man synonymous with the British marketing group told the staff they would come through this hard time. "Good fortune and Godspeed to all of you".

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