Three cheers for Sir Martin.
Love him or not, the ad/PR community is going to miss Martin Sorrell—assuming that the 73-year-old architect of WPP doesn’t stage a comeback.
A serial acquirer who applied tough financial controls on an advertising world that prized creativity, Sorrell also emerged over the years as the leading spokesperson for the communications business. That's a very rare bird.
In a business notorious for leaders unwilling to speak publicly about the issues of the day, Sorrell was readily available to pontificate on matters such as globalization, Donald Trump’s rise, Brexit and threats to the advertising/PR sector posed by Google, Facebook, Deloitte and Accenture.
WPP’s annual report and financial updates, which Sorrell assured me that he wrote, were joys to read.
For instance, WPP’s March 1 update on 2017 preliminary results referred to “piranha or gladiator brands” and called inflation the “canary in the coal mine” that could wallop steady growth in Central and Eastern Europe.
Sorrell, who was noted for his lightning responses to emails, was a master of the pithy quote. He cheekily smacked down arch-nemesis Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy following the collapse of the French firm’s merger with Omnicom. The WPP boss summed it up nicely with, “Their eyes were bigger than their tummy.”
Sorrell spent 33 years building Wire & Plastic Products corporate shell into an enterprise with more than 200,000 people and operations in more than 100 countries.
He was a man of his time, but times have changed. WPP is now a cumbersome structure ill-suited for today’s agile communications environment. It will most likely be broken up into individual pieces.
The Guardian estimates the pieces of WPP are worth $31B, which is $10B more than its market value.
The break-up number will certainly catch the eye of WPP’s executive chairman and hedge fund executive Roberto Quarta, who is filling in for Sorrell.
Quarta is known for his corporate cost-cutting skills, which earned him the nickname “Spare No Quarta” and “Bob the Knife.”
Good luck to everybody at WPP. Hurry back, Sir Martin.