Embattled advertising giant WPP’s boss quits

Martin Sorrell addresses delegates at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in central London. PHOTO | AFP
Martin Sorrell addresses delegates at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in central London. PHOTO | AFP  

The chief executive of the world’s largest advertising agency, WPP Plc, has resigned following allegations of personal misconduct and misuse of the firm’s assets.

Martin Sorrell resigned after 33 years at the helm of the British advertising and public relations firm which has its management office in London, and its executive office in Dublin, Ireland.

Mr Sorrell has denied the allegations and internal investigations into his alleged misconduct concluded that they did not involve amounts that were material.

The WPP boss said he was sad to leave WPP – a business he built over a period of three decades to become the world’s top advertising agency – but was convinced it was the right thing to do.

“Obviously I am sad to leave WPP after 33 years. It has been a passion, focus and source of energy for so long. However, I believe it is in the best interests of the business if I step down now,” said Mr Sorrel in a statement.

“I leave the company in very good hands, as the board knows. Mark [Read, WPP digital chief executive] and Andrew [Scott, corporate development director and chief operating officer in Europe] and the management team at all levels have the knowledge and abilities to take WPP to even greater heights and capitalise on the geographic and functional opportunities. I will particularly miss the daily interactions with everyone across the world and want to thank them and their families for all they have done, and will do, for WPP,” said Mr Sorrell.

The chairman of WPP, Roberto Quarta, will take charge of the agency until the appointment of a new CEO.

Mr Read and Mr Scott have been appointed as joint chief operating officers of WPP.

WPP said it will treat Mr Sorrell as having retired as detailed in the directors’ compensation policy. That means “his share awards will be pro-rated in line with the plan rules and will vest over the next five years, to the extent group performance targets are achieved.”

During his tenure, WPP has acquired several “below-the-line” advertising-related firms, purchasing 18 in three years.

In 1987, it acquired J. Walter Thompson at $566 million. In 1989 it bought Ogilvy and Mather for $825 million.

Since 2000, WPP has also acquired two more integrated, global agency networks, Young & Rubicam and Grey.

Last year, Mr Sorrell became the longest-serving CEO of any firm featured in the UK’s benchmark FTSE 100 Index — having led WPP since 1985.

In 2015, he faced a shareholder revolt over a £70.4 million (about Sh9.85 billion) remuneration package.

In 2014, he had received total compensation from WPP of £40 million (Sh5.6 billion), his largest annual total since £53 million (Sh7.42 billion) in 2004.