Martin Sorrell, head of world’s biggest ad group WPP, quits after misconduct allegations
The departure of the CEO who built a two-man outfit into one of Britain’s biggest companies with 200,000 staff in 112 countries leaves WPP without a boss at a pivotal time
Martin Sorrell has quit as chief executive of WPP, the world’s biggest advertising agency, following allegations of personal misconduct through the misuse of company assets.
Sorrell, who founded the British ad giant and has been at the helm for the past 33 years, stepped down less than two weeks after the group launched an independent investigation into the allegations.
WPP said the probe had concluded, adding that “the allegation did not involve amounts that are material”.
Sorrell, 73, said in a statement Saturday that he was sad to leave, with WPP having been his passion and focus for more than three decades.
“As I look ahead, I see that the current disruption is simply putting too much unnecessary pressure on the business, our over 200,000 people and their 500,000 or so dependents, and the clients we serve in 112 countries,” he said.
“That is why I have decided that in your interest, in the interest of our clients, in the interest of all share owners, both big and small, and in the interest of all our other stakeholders, it is best for me to step aside.”
WPP said Sorrell would be treated as having retired, with chairman Roberto Quarta becoming executive chairman until a new chief executive is appointed.
Sorrell, one of Britain’s best-known businessmen, denied any wrongdoing after the allegations surfaced earlier this month, but said he understood the company had to investigate.
“In the coming period, I will be available to the board and any of you, should you want help with anything, anywhere,” he said.
“As a founder, I can say that WPP is not just a matter of life and death, it was, is and will be more important than that.”
Sorrell, who worked at Saatchi & Saatchi before founding WPP, said the company has been “a passion, focus and source of energy for so long”.
He has made headlines in recent years regarding his sizeable pay at a time when traditional advertising groups struggle against fierce competition from the likes of Google and Facebook.
According to research from the High Pay Centre think tank Sorrell was Britain’s best-paid boss in 2015, with a package of more than £70 million (US$100 million) that year.
He received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth in 2000.
Sorrell formed WPP from a shell company, Wire & Plastic Products PLC, establishing it as a marketing services group in 1986.
The firm has grown into one of the world’s largest communications groups and now employs more than 200,000 people in some 3,000 offices, across 112 countries.
Additional reporting by Reuters