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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 July 2018

Embittered ex-WPP chief Sorrell slams firm's inaction over "leak"

Departure of the world’s most famous advertising executive has prompted speculation as to why he left

Martin Sorrell at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, in Cannes, France. The former WPP chief has lashed out at the firm's handling of his departure. Eric Gaillard/Reuters
Martin Sorrell at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, in Cannes, France. The former WPP chief has lashed out at the firm's handling of his departure. Eric Gaillard/Reuters

Martin Sorrell, the founder of WPP, used his first major public appearance since quitting as chief executive in April to hit out at the advertising giant over the treatment he received from the board.

The 73-year-old left the world's biggest advertising company over an allegation of personal misconduct, which he has denied. However neither Mr Sorrell nor the company have given any details about the nature of the complaint.

Speaking at a packed event in Cannes organised by The Drum advertising publisher, Mr Sorrell said he had asked the company to conduct an investigation over how news about the allegation had leaked to the Wall Street Journal.

"The most damaging thing that happened during the course of those events ... was the leak over the Easter weekend at the very top of the company, and which to my knowledge there has been no investigation whatsoever," he said.

Mr Sorrell noted that the company has since said that all employees are treated equally.

"I would disagree violently with that premise, not all employees have been treated equally.

"There has been no investigation to my knowledge of how, why and what the leak consisted of and I think that is a fundamental flaw," he said, adding that he had requested one.

The departure of Mr Sorrell, the world’s most famous advertising executive, has prompted speculation as to why he left, including reports in the Financial Times that he could be aggressive towards staff.

He called the speculation "scurrilous and salacious".

"Am I the easiest person in the world to get along with, you know very well that sometimes I can be difficult, but I would always say difficult with justification," he said.

"If it is a fault to demand or expect superior performance or for things to go well, mea culpa."

In his absence, the company has appointed Mark Read and Andrew Scott to run the company. As a 2 per cent shareholder, Mr Sorrell said he thought the two should be permanent CEOs.

"I’m not saying two individuals because nobody could replace me individually, but those two individuals have complementary skills," he said. "One on their own would not be sufficient in my view but two together can be a very powerful and potent combination."

WPP has since had to defend its handling of the departure after it emerged that Mr Sorrell had left with share awards worth potentially £20 million (Dh90m) and without a non-compete clause.

He has since set up a new venture, S4 Capital with a pool of £150m from outside investors to make acquisitions.

His move to acquire a listed shell company repeats his formula from the 1980s when he used a then little-known shell company called Wire and Plastics Products to buy some of the biggest ad agencies in the world, such as JWT, Ogilvy and others.

Mr Sorrell said he expected to work for the next seven years and then assess whether he wants to go on with a new cycle.

Mr Sorrell described his new venture as a peanut. He noted that some people have allergies to peanuts.