A titan of the advertising world

Sir Martin Sorrell said a legacy business like WPP was restrictive, but his new firm could be faster, less bureaucratic, and focused on the creative.
Sir Martin Sorrell said a legacy business like WPP was restrictive, but his new firm could be faster, less bureaucratic, and focused on the creative. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LONDON • One of Britain's best known businessmen, Sir Martin Sorrell was a dominant presence for more than three decades, presiding over the world's largest advertising and PR group, WPP, which he founded in 1985.

He was the longest-serving chief executive of a FTSE 100 company until he was forced to resign in April, and is seen as the godfather of the modern advertising industry and the major holding companies dominating it.

WPP owns more than 400 separate agencies offering public relations, creative work, data analytics, media buying and market research.

His net worth was reportedly £495 million (S$888 million) as of May last year.

Born in London on Feb 14, 1945, to a Jewish family, he went to the independent Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School, then studied economics at Christ's College, Cambridge. He earned his MBA from Harvard in 1968.

Mr Sorrell started his career at marketing consultancy firm Glendinning Associates, before joining James Gulliver Associates as a financial consultant and later sports agent Mark McCormack.

He joined global communications and advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi in 1975, where he was group finance director from 1977 until 1984. During his time there, he was often referred to as "the third brother" and reportedly oversaw many of the firm's acquisitions.

He created WPP in 1985 with the acquisition of Wire and Plastic Products, a company which made wire baskets for retailers. Mr Sorrell was searching for a listed company to transform into a worldwide marketing services company and bought a controlling stake of just under 30 per cent for US$676,000, which he then used to remodel the firm as a one-stop shop for all the advertising and marketing needs of big corporations.

The business - renamed WPP - grew with major acquisitions, and the company's subsidiaries now include Grey Global Group, Ogilvy & Mather, Wunderman, Young & Rubicam, and Burson-Marsteller, among other well-known brands. In 2017, it reported a net income of £1.91 billion on revenues of £15.26 billion.

He has been married to Ms Cristiana Falcone, the director of media and entertainment industries at the World Economic Forum, since 2008.

He was previously married to Ms Sandra Finestone, with whom he has three sons. That marriage broke down in 2003, ostensibly over his "obsession with work". The divorce settlement was at the time the largest in British legal history.

Sons Mark, Jonathan and Robert, all went to Cambridge University and then Goldman Sachs. However, two have since left. Mr Sorrell was knighted in 2000.

Arvind Jayaram

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 17, 2018, with the headline 'A titan of the advertising world'. Print Edition | Subscribe