Martin Sorrell Plans His Return to the Ad Industry Via Little-Known Shell Company

He will reportedly take over a medical tech firm

A Sorrell spokesperson called the report 'speculation.' Getty Images
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

Martin Sorrell’s much-hyped absence from advertising is proving quite short lived.

According to a report that ran in the U.K.’s Sky News this afternoon, the now-former leader of WPP looks to re-enter the ad industry in much the same way he did before: by taking over a shell company.

The story by Sky reporter Mark Kleinman claims that Sorrell is set to take charge of a little-known London investment firm called Derriston Capital PLC, which went public in 2016 and specializes in “opportunities within the global medical technology industry,” according to its website.

With Sorrell as its chairman, Derritson will then acquire S4, a new entity created by Sorrell, and use it to acquire other businesses.

Theoretically, those businesses could be ad agencies, because Sorrell’s contract with WPP contained no non-compete clause—a fact that led many to speculate whether he might be planning this very sort of move.

The behavior, if accurate, would also fit a well-established pattern. WPP was initially a company called Wire and Plastic Products plc that produced exactly that. Only after Sorrell left his job at Saatchi & Saatchi and took over WPP did it begin to grow into the organization that would eventually acquire Y&R, Ogilvy, Grey and more on its way to eventually becoming the world’s single largest advertising business.

“We are not commenting on market speculation,” said spokesperson for Sorrell. A WPP representative declined to comment. Derriston Capital does not list any official email contacts and could not be reached by phone at the time this story was published. Its three listed principals and Sorrell share a background in finance.

One party close to the matter, however, described the Sky report as “accurate” and stated that an official announcement will most likely go live tomorrow.

Earlier this month, Sorrell hinted at a return to advertising while appearing at an event in New York, implying that his absence, however brief, had granted greater insight into the challenges facing those who were his competitors.

The longtime executive abruptly left WPP in April after running the company for more than three decades after The Wall Street Journal reported that he was under investigation for “personal misconduct” and misuse of company assets.

Wunderman CEO Mark Read and corporate development director, European COO Andrew Scott were then promoted to the co-COO role and made defacto leaders of the holding group, and Read looked to reassure staff of the company’s stability in an email sent to more than 150,000 employees the following week.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.