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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

WPP's new CEO Read promises 'change is coming'

Mark Read, appointed the ad giant's chief on Monday, steps into Martin Sorrell's shoes just as firm reports latest results

Mark Read, new CEO of advertising agency WPP, aims to wipe the slate clean. Reuters 
Mark Read, new CEO of advertising agency WPP, aims to wipe the slate clean. Reuters 

Mark Read is stepping out from the shadow of WPP founder Martin Sorrell as the advertising giant’s new chief executive, and he has a clear message: change is coming.

“There are no sacred cows,” Mr Read said, shortly after WPP confirmed his appointment on Monday. In an unusually lengthy statement, he promised renewal and a different style that would be “inclusive, respectful, collaborative, diverse” - a thinly-veiled criticism of the approach of his former boss, who earned a reputation as abrasive to downright bullying.

Mr Read, who takes over with immediate effect, has no time to waste. The industry is up against increasingly powerful digital rivals and battling declines in spending by consumer goods giants. WPP must simplify the myriad different agencies that create and deliver advertising campaigns and measure their effectiveness.

His resume hardly suggests a clean break for WPP: Mr Read joined as a corporate development manager in 1989, three years after Mr Sorrell founded the advertising group, and has stayed put for most of his career apart from a period outside the group in the 1990s. As a past head of strategy and head of digital at WPP, Mr Read is partly responsible for where the world’s largest ad company is today.

While he may not take a hatchet to Mr Sorrell’s legacy, Mr Read, 51, has made some symbolic moves in the few months since his departure: selling some minority stakes, such as in digital ad company AppNexus and Latin American tech firm Globant, and making plans to move WPP’s head office from its long-standing HQ in London’s high-class Mayfair district.

Investors will get a further taste of his approach on Tuesday, when WPP reports interim financial results. Some restructuring at WPP seems likely, with Mr Read saying he may look to reduce the number of WPP brands. There are more than 100, ranging from creative agencies Ogilvy and J Walter Thompson to media houses Wavemaker and Mindshare.

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“We may not need as many of them as we had in the past,” Mr Read said. “We need to make it easier for all of our clients to access our best resources.”

He has been helping to run WPP as interim co-chief operating officer since Mr Sorrell’s sudden April departure. From 2015 until then, Mr Read oversaw WPP digital agency Wunderman.

He is popular internally: a dozen WPP executives interviewed by Bloomberg in recent weeks said he is more collaborative and thoughtful than Mr Sorrell, and they believe he has the company know-how to revive WPP’s fortunes.

Mr Read will be paid an annual salary of £975,000 (Dh4.6 billion) plus the opportunity for bonuses. His total pay is set to be lower than that received by Mr Sorrell, after a string of shareholder rebellions led WPP to curb maximum pay packages. For many years, Mr Sorrell was the highest-paid CEO in Britain’s FTSE 100 index of leading companies.

Mr Read’s contract also includes clauses that restrict him from going to work for a rival firm, or competing against WPP should he leave. WPP came under fire after it emerged in April that Mr Sorrell’s contract did not include such provisions.

Andrew Scott, who has shared the interim co-COO job with Mr Read since April, will stay on as COO on a permanent basis. Roberto Quarta, who had become executive chairman when Mr Sorrell left, has resumed his role as chairman.