Sorrell’s consolidation may have been a disaster, but the industry is empty at the top without him

Following the WPP boss' shocking exit over the weekend, Bob Hoffman assesses the ramifications of losing one of advertising's most powerful and influential figures

Sir Martin Sorrell, the British accountant who bought a shopping cart company and turned it into the largest advertising and marketing corporation in history, has stepped down as CEO of WPP.

In what is likely to be a disaster for the company, Sorrell resigned yesterday in the midst of an investigation into alleged improprieties by the board of the company he founded over 30 years ago.

The scope of the empire Sorrell built is unprecedented in the history of the advertising industry.
WPP consists of over 400 individual companies with over 3,000 offices in over 100 countries employing over 200,000 people. More than any other corporation in the advertising industry, WPP was the extended shadow of one man — Martin Sorrell.

Two weeks ago it was reported by The Wall Street Journal that Sorrell was being investigated for “misuse of assets and allegations of improper behaviour.” Sorrell denied the allegations but stepped down suddenly yesterday. According to The Guardian, a report to the WPP Board was expected later this week.

It is hard to overestimate the impact that this could have on an industry already reeling from multiple scandals. As I have said too many times already, the consolidation of the ad industry into the hands of a few financial wise guys has been a disaster. Over the years, I have not been kind to Sorrell. But I have to grudgingly admit that he did provide leadership to an industry that seems empty at the top.

Filling his shoes is going to be a very difficult proposition – and not just because of his tiny little feet. There is only one man with the knowledge and experience to step right in and seamlessly maintain a culture of “misuse of assets and…improper behaviour.” But, unfortunately, I have a haircut scheduled next week, so I’ll have to pass.

Bob Hoffman has been the CEO of two independent agencies and is the author of the Ad Contrarian blog


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