​Industry heroes: Sir Martin Sorrell

Although a controversial figure for some, Sir Martin Sorrell did enough at WPP to qualify as an industry hero – argues Kennedy, Voice & Berliner Indonesia founder and CEO Dian Noeh Abubakar – but can he replicate that success at S4 Capital?

I always find the communications industry — especially ad agencies — fascinating. The industry employs artists who are generalists and who, whether they are aware of it or not, understand sociology. And all the while, they are working to tight deadlines.

With that thought in mind, my industry hero has to be Sir Martin Sorrell. Although he is obviously not a creative, he is a tough founder who aggressively manages to monetise ventures in the people-focused communications industry. No easy task. In fact, I would argue that he is an investor who can understand artists and their potential to produce business growth.

As we all know the hostile takeover of the Ogilvy Group in 1989, the first company in marketing communications to list on the stock exchange, was a move that would end up making WPP the largest marketing communications firm in the world.

The acquisition was possible because Ogilvy Group had issued an initial public offering. It was said that David Ogilvy was initially very angry with Sir Martin. But later, he became the non-executive chairman for WPP and a fan of Sorrell.

Sorrell did things that impressed David Ogilvy. For instance, his understanding of the different types of individuals that make up the industry and how to negotiate with them in big deals. His growth strategy was formidable.

And then there is his legendary rapid turnaround time in responding to queries, even when he is travelling and at all hours.

This was great for building his personal brand and that of WPP at the same time (and now the same could be said of S4 Capital). Even now at the age of 73, he has the determination to win.

He still moves faster than others. Indeed, I experienced this first hand when I worked at Ogilvy PR in Indonesia.

It is also suggested by some that he indulges in obsessive micromanagement when it comes clients, finances and employees. After all, building a business is like nurturing a baby. If you want to see something grow quickly and produce an immediate impact, micromanagement is sometimes the only way to get there.

Sir Martin Sorrell: Admired for his attention to detail and quick turnaround time

Only founders truly understand how every small piece of the puzzle can be put together in order to get to that big vision. The details matter a great deal in terms of achieving great ambitions.

I wonder how he will now navigate the growth path for S4 Capital, which was started during a very different age compared to when WPP was formed. How will he adapt to a new economy where almost all businesses use technology as part of the operating model or growth engine?

To give him his dues, back in 2017 he said that advertising companies had to change their business model. The merger of S4 Capital and MediaMonks displayed his usual fast pace when it comes to doing deals.

Obviously he now wants to differentiate his new company through the combination of data, content and technology focused on delivering for clients to a millennial consumer base.

The world needs people who are growth catalysts and Sir Martin is certainly that.

Dian Noeh Abubakar is founder, CEO and inclusion driver at Kennedy, Voice & Berliner Indonesia – and has previously worked for Weber Shandwick and Ogilvy PR 


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