Advertising giant Martin Sorrell quits after allegation of personal misconduct

Over 33 years, Martin Sorrell turned a two-man outfit into WPP, one of Britain's biggest companies present in 112 countries.
Over 33 years, Martin Sorrell turned a two-man outfit into WPP, one of Britain's biggest companies present in 112 countries.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (Reuters) - Mr Martin Sorrell's sudden exit from WPP marks a shocking end to the career of a chief executive who through sheer force of personality made it the world's biggest advertising firm.

WPP said in early April it had appointed lawyers to investigate a whistleblower's allegation of personal misconduct against Mr Sorrell, who over 33 years turned a two-man outfit into one of Britain's biggest companies present in 112 countries.

The 73-year-old said on Saturday he was standing down, departing at a crucial time for WPP which has seen its share price fall 30 per cent this year due to lower client spending, contract losses and a growing threat from Google and Facebook.

"I shall miss all of you greatly," he wrote in an e-mail to staff. "As a founder, I can say that WPP is not just a matter of life or death, it was, is and will be more important than that."

WPP did not give any details of the allegation and he denied the charges, initially saying that he understood the need to investigate.

However, when the matter made it into the Wall Street Journal, he told friends he thought it was being used as a weapon to force him out, one source said.

A former rival chief executive and a current CEO told Reuters last week that the fact Mr Sorrell was under investigation showed how the dynamic within WPP had changed.

"To me, it's not actually about whether he did anything wrong but it's the fact that three years ago the board would not even have gone down this path," the former CEO said.

"Martin was all powerful and WPP without Martin was not worth thinking about."