WPP Appoints Independent Counsel to Investigate Allegations of ‘Personal Misconduct’ Against CEO Martin Sorrell

'I reject the allegation unreservedly'

Sorrell has led WPP since 1986. Getty Images

The board of WPP is currently investigating claims of “personal misconduct” made against CEO Martin Sorrell, a company spokesperson confirmed in a statement to Adweek.

The Wall Street Journal broke the news of the investigation Tuesday afternoon.

“The Board of WPP has appointed independent counsel to conduct an investigation in response to an allegation of personal misconduct against Sir Martin Sorrell, Chief Executive Officer of WPP,” the statement read. “The investigation is ongoing. The allegations do not involve amounts which are material to WPP.”

Sources also told The Wall Street Journal that the holding company was looking into possible misuse of company assets and that the company has hired an unnamed law firm to conduct an independent inquiry.

Update: Several hours after this story was published, Project Associates, a London-based consultancy that “acts for Sir Martin Sorrell in his personal capacity,” responded to a request for comment with a statement on his behalf.

“Reports in the media have stated that WPP is investigating an allegation of financial impropriety by me, specifically as to the use of company funds. This allegation is being investigated by a law firm,” the statement read. “I reject the allegation unreservedly but recognise that the Company has to investigate it. I understand that this process will be completed shortly.”

“Obviously, I shall play no part in the management of the investigation under way,” it continued. “As a significant share owner, my commitment to the company, which I founded over thirty years ago, remains absolute—to our people, our clients, our shareholders and all of our many stakeholders. I do not intend to make any further statement at this time.”

The report follows news that Sorrell, who has led WPP for more than 30 years, took a significant pay cut from WPP. He received a bonus of around $14 million for 2017 compared with $58.5 million the previous year. That followed a disappointing financial performance from the holding company in 2017 and WPP’s steepest decline in stock value since 1999.

Over the past two years, WPP has faced a series of controversies surrounding former JWT CEO Gustavo Martinez, who resigned in March 2016 following a discrimination suit filed by JWT global communications chief Erin Johnson.

In October of 2017, Martinez spoke on behalf of the holding group in his new role as country manager for WPP Spain.

@ErikDOster erik.oster@adweek.com Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.
@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.