WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell has abruptly stepped down from his role, ending a 33-year career at the company he founded and turned into the biggest agency holding group in the world.
The decision was announced late last night (14 April) and takes effect immediately. WPP chairman Roberto Quarta will take over as executive chairman until a new CEO is appointed. Mark Read, who leads Wunderman and WPP Digital, and Andrew Scott, WPP’s corporate development director and COO for Europe have been made joint COO.
Sorrell started WPP in 1985 after acquiring a small Kent-based manufacturer of wire baskets called Wire and Plastic Products. He rapidly bought up advertising agencies, turning WPP into the world’s biggest agency holding company with more than 200,000 staff across 3,000 offices in more than 110 countries.
However, the company and Sorrell had come under increasing pressure; 2017 saw WPP post its slowest growth since the financial crisis and its share price has plummeted by more than a third.
Sorrell himself was also facing an internal investigation into allegations of “personal misconduct” and misuse of company funds. According to WPP, Sorrell’s decision to step down concludes that investigation, although the company insists the allegations did not involve material amounts.
Sorrell says: “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.
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.
Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP
“I leave the company in very good hands, as the Board knows. Mark and Andrew 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.”
In addition to the official statement, Sorrell also issued a note to WPP’s employees, which number more than 200,000 globally. In it, he outlined WPP’s achievements over the past more than three decades.
Sorrell will remain with WPP to help with the transition and pending the confirmation of his successor. After that, he will retire with his shares vesting over the next five years, dependent on WPP’s performance.
“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,” he said in the note.
“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,” Sorrell wrote.