Martin Sorrell’s toughest challenge

MUMBAI: The toughest challenge is to retain people after making the acquisition as they don’t want to be where they have ended up, said the founder of the world’s largest advertising agency who has gobbled up many rivals over the years.

Citing the acquisitions of Ogilvy, Grey and Y&R, Martin Sorrell, founder and CEO of WPP, said it is “difficult for rivals to come together.”
In an interview given to Bloomberg Businessweek, Sorrell observed: “The mindset shifts with the second generation, but until then it‘s a challenge. We can‘t be a collection of businesses. Clients expect us to connect the dots. The task is to get every one of the 140,000 people here to know what the other 139,999 are doing.”

Sorrell spoke on issues related to building his business, firing employees, and bringing together the company after acquisitions.
Sorrell asserted that advertising and communications is a “people business” and “people are cyclical, and partners in a business can change—especially when they become wealthy.”

Elaborating further, the wise man of the ad world said: “We spend about $9 billion annually on people, but we don‘t spend enough time evaluating that investment. The conventional wisdom in our business is if you need people, you poach them. The industry will not survive long term unless we change this attitude.”

So how did Sorrell build his empire? In 1985, he left Saatchi and invested in a small public company called WPP, eventually becoming chief executive officer.
“ You might say my decision to leave was a form of male menopause. At 40, I hadn‘t started my own business so this felt like the last chance,” Sorrell said.

About 18 months later, Sorrell purchased J. Walter Thompson, an advertising company 13 times the size of his business. “It was a hostile takeover. We paid $525 million. It was a no-brainer: I didn‘t have much, so I had nothing to lose,” he recollected.

Sorrell fears that the successor may not share his attachment to WPP. “A founder has a different business perspective. WPP is highly personal to me. I‘ve watched the bricks being put in the wall. Whoever does my job in the future will not do it the same way. I‘m not saying they‘ll do it worse, but they won‘t have the same emotional attachment I‘ve had,” he mused.

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