WPP CEO Martin Sorrell Steps Down Abruptly After 33 Years

Executive resigns amid an investigation by WPP's board

Sorrell has led WPP since 1986.
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Today marks the end of the Martin Sorrell era at WPP.

The world’s largest advertising company confirmed in a statement that Sorrell has resigned as CEO, effectively immediately, following 33 years in the role.

“Sir Martin Sorrell has stepped down as Chief Executive Officer of WPP with immediate effect,” the holding company said in a statement. “Roberto Quarta, Chairman of WPP, becomes Executive Chairman until the appointment of a new Chief Executive Officer.”

Wunderman CEO Mark Read and Andrew Scott, who is WPP’s corporate development director and chief operating officer for Europe, will share the chief operating officer role. Recent reports speculated that the two could become co-CEOs if Sorrell were to resign.

The move follows news of an investigation launched by the board of WPP earlier this month into allegations of “personal misconduct” and misuse of company assets by Sorrell.

According to WPP’s statement, this announcement concludes that investigation, which “did not involve amounts that are material.” The statement did not address whether those amounts and the allegations of misconduct were separate matters.

“In accordance with his at-will employment agreement, Sir Martin will be treated as having retired on leaving WPP, as detailed in the Directors’ Compensation Policy,” the note continued. “His share awards will be pro-rated in line with the plan rules and will vest over the next five years, to the extent Group performance targets are achieved.”

“Sir Martin has been the driving force behind the expansion of WPP to create the global leader in marketing services. During this time, the Company has been successful because it has valued and nurtured outstanding talent at every level—within and well beyond our leadership teams,” Quanta said in a statement of his own. “On behalf of the Board I would like to recognise these achievements and thank Sir Martin for his commitment to the business over more than three decades.”

Prior to the recent investigation, Sorrell took a significant pay cut in the wake of WPP’s steepest decline in stock value since 1999.

“Obviously I am sad to leave WPP after 33 years,” read a statement provided by Sorrell’s personal PR firm, Project Associated. “It has been a passion, focus and source of energy for so long. However, I believe it is in the best interests of the business if I step down now. I leave the Company in very good hands, as the Board knows.”

He continued, “Mark and Andrew and the management team at all levels have the knowledge and abilities to take WPP to even greater heights and capitalise on the geographic and functional opportunities. I will particularly miss the daily interactions with everyone across the world and want to thank them and their families for all they have done, and will do, for WPP.”

In addition to the statements above, Sorrell also issued a lengthy note to WPP’s estimated 200,000 employees worldwide.

“For the past 33 years, I have spent every single day thinking about the future of WPP. Over those decades, our family has grown and prospered,” he wrote. “We welcomed J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy, Young & Rubicam, Grey, 24/7 Real Media, Taylor Nelson Sofres, among so many others. We created GroupM, including Xaxis and Essence.”

“We put the focus on Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East and Central Eastern Europe, the home of the next billion consumers. We embarked on the early development of digital capabilities; and the evolution of a firm-wide integrated client and country-centered approach. Our holding company was recognized as the world’s best and most effective through the Cannes Lions and Effie Awards year after year after year.”

Sorrell continued to summarize his company’s achievements, writing, “We pioneered Atticus Awards for original written thinking…. the WPP Fellowship Awards to recognize promising talent…. the Partnership and Practice Awards for client endorsed integrated market and case studies. Our Stream digital conferences have attracted the best in the digital business for more than a decade. Our Annual Sustainability and Pro Bono Reports highlight the unique social, environmental and public policy work that we do day in, day out across the globe.”

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