Published: Mon, April 16, 2018
Markets | By Noel Gibbs

Martin Sorrell makes shock departure from WPP

Martin Sorrell makes shock departure from WPP

Fears are growing for the future of advertising goliath WPP following Sir Martin Sorrell's dramatic exit after more than three decades in charge.

The 73-year-old founder of WPP resigned ahead of an investigation into alleged "personal misconduct and misuse of company assets", which he has denied. "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", he said in the statement.

Mark Read, chief executive of Wunderman and WPP Digital, and Andrew Scott, WPP corporate development director and chief operating officer, Europe, have been appointed as joint chief operating officers of WPP.

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Chairman Roberto Quarta will become executive chairman until a new chief executive has been appointed.

"During this time, the company has been successful because it has valued and nurtured outstanding talent at every level - within and well beyond our leadership teams".

The resignation preempts what could have been an inglorious departure for someone who was the public face of the advertising industry writ large. It made no further comment but repeated a previous statement that the allegation did not involve amounts that were material to the company. Below, a look at how his exit was greeted on social media. "However, there will be great interest in resolving the full-time CEO role as soon as possible". He earned about 200 million pounds ($284 million) over the last five years, largely due to a lucrative performance-related bonus package. "Most of my wealth, if not all of it, is and has been for the last 31 years tied up in the success of WPP".

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WPP on March 1 lowered its long-term profit outlook after reporting its worst annual performance since the global financial crisis, capping a string of disappointments that put Sorrell on the defensive.

The probe served to intensify scrutiny on Sorrell and WPP's succession planning, long criticized by investors as being insufficient, prompting speculation that a CEO long seen as unstoppable might be forced to step aside.

The era of advertising Sorrell ushered in has been about scale as a handful of big players - WPP, France's Publicis and Havas, Japan's Dentsu and New York-based Interpublic and Omnicom - have hoovered up smaller agencies.

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