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Sir Martin Sorrell says ta-ta to WPP, Roberto Quarta becomes exec chairman

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MUMBAI: A first gen entrepreneur of Ukrainian descent, he rose out of nowhere to build the world’s largest advertising group.  And late last night  - amidst investigations into charges of personal misconduct by the WPP board – Sir Martin Sorrell packed up his things and shockingly announced that he was saying ta-ta to the CEO’s position and moving out of the corner office.

“Obviously I am sad to leave WPP after 33 years. It has been a passion, focus and source of energy for so long,” stated Sorrell in an emotional note to WPP staff.  “However, I believe it is in the best interests of the business …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….the current disruption is putting too much unnecessary pressure on the business.”

He added: “We have weathered difficult storms in the past. And our highly talented people have always won through, always. I leave the company in very good hands as the board knows… 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.”

WPP released a statement stating that the change would become effective immediately and that the advertising behemoth’s chairman  Roberto Quarta would become executive chairman until the company could appoint a new chief executive. Sir Martin would of course assist with the transition.  It added that the 73 year old  would be “treated as having retired” and that his share awards would 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.”

WPP’s corporate development director and chief operating officer for Europe Andrew Scott and , Wunderman CEO Mark  Read would don the mantle of co-chief operating officers. Said Sorrell in his note: “We have had a succession plan in place for some time. A new generation of management, led by Mark Read and Andrew Scott , are well qualified and experienced in the board’s opinion, to deal with the geographic and technological opportunities and challenges our industry faces”

“The previously announced investigation into an allegation of misconduct against Sir Martin has concluded,” the WPP statement read. “The allegation did not involve amounts that are material.”

Born to Jewish parents who were from Kiev, Sorrell began his career in the renowned and trendy ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi (which fashioned winning electoral campaigns for Britain’s conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher) in 1975. He worked closely with the brothers Saatchi (Charles and Maurice) and helped fashion its rapid growth, before going solo and acquiring a shopping basket manufacturer Wires & Plastic Products (WPP).

He used that firm as a vehicle to gobble up various other global ad icons such as Ogilvy & Mather, Young & Rubicam and another 18 other advertising service providers over three years. WPP today has  130,000 employees in 112 countries, and a market valuation of around 22 billion pounds, or about $31 billion.

Along the way as his legend grew – so did the amounts he took as payments for his hard labour which caused heartburn to investors and shareholders.  In 2016 when he took a pay packet of 70 million pounds and the empire struck back with protests amongst the community about all his financial excesses.

And last month  amidst slowing down of revenues and income and the growing clout of the FANGS  – the board commenced an investigation charging Sorrell with personal misconduct and misuse of the company’s assets.

Sorrell’s last few words in his farewell note will not only tug at WPP staff’s heartstrings but almost anyone’s.

Said he: “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.”

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