RAPP CEO Alexei Orlov Allegedly Resigned From Wunderman in 2008 After an Employee Filed a Complaint Against Him

By Patrick Coffee 

Alexei Orlov, who currently serves as global CEO of Omnicom direct marketing agency RAPP, made headlines earlier this month when the agency’s former U.S. president Greg Andersen filed a lawsuit accusing Orlov of discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination.

Andersen alleges that he was fired by the CEO in April for reporting complaints made by multiple employees about Orlov to HR, management and Omnicom’s in-house legal team. According to the full suit, these complaints concerned instances of aggressive behavior displayed by Orlov toward subordinates within the agency. In one example, the suit claims that Orlov refused Andersen’s suggestion that he promote a female executive, stating that she was “too pretty” to be taken seriously.

Orlov remains RAPP’s chief executive as Andersen’s suit makes its way through the legal system–but according to a source who spoke to us on condition of anonymity, RAPP is not the first agency at which employees filed complaints against him.

Earlier in his career, Orlov held top marketing roles at Avon and Volvo before launching his own branding agency and eventually moving to WPP’s Wunderman, where he worked from 2000 to 2008 and held the title of executive vice chairman. This appointment came after WPP acquired the agency he started, and Orlov reportedly often made mention of his personal relationship with CEO Sir Martin Sorrell.

Spokespeople for Wunderman and WPP declined to comment for this story. We have also reached out to RAPP several times over the past two days to request comment from Orlov himself but have yet to receive a response.

Orlov oversaw Wunderman’s Detroit operations for some time, and in 2008 he flew in from New York to attend an event with 75 to 100 attendees including clients and employees of that agency and WPP’s Team Detroit. According to a source who was present at the time, Orlov’s goal was to introduce himself to clients and give an inspirational speech to staffers. But the event took an awkward turn.

During an extended, wide-ranging address which began by focusing on Team Detroit’s business, Orlov allegedly moved on to topics unrelated to the agency. According to our source, at some point during the speech he recalled a “fat black mama” that he once encountered at a Chicago-area jazz club. The source states that Orlov then pointed toward a female, African-American employee in the audience and said something along the lines of “you know what I mean.”

Later during the same speech, Orlov allegedly referenced the 2007 armed conflict in Lebanon, describing the repeated bombing of Beirut before turning to an employee of Middle Eastern descent and again voicing some variation on “you understand.”

The woman mentioned above was allegedly offended by Orlov’s speech and filed a formal complaint with the agency’s HR department. According to our source, both Wunderman CEO Daniel Morel (who currently serves as non-executive chairman) and Sorrell himself were involved in the follow-up process. At this time, it is unclear whether the subsequent review only concerned the complaint made by that specific employee.

After completing its internal investigation, WPP reportedly corroborated the employee’s story, and Orlov subsequently resigned. Our source tells us that Orlov briefly addressed the investigation on his personal Facebook page, calling it “a witch hunt” before deleting the post. He later became a senior partner at IPG before moving to China to lead Volkswagen’s marketing efforts in Southeast Asia and eventually assuming the CEO role at RAPP in 2014.

In writing this story, we reached out to multiple staffers who worked with Orlov at Wunderman and/or Team Detroit at the time of his departure, but each declined to be interviewed.