Sir Martin Sorrell, once the king of adland, loses his crown

The world has changed a great deal since WPP made wire and plastic products.

In the three decades that followed Sir Martin Sorrell's acquisition of the £1m business, over 400 global companies came to sit underneath the WPP banner, and Sir Martin became one of the most well-known business leaders of his generation.

The global advertising giant reached a peak market valuation earlier last year of £24bn, and the man behind this corporate goliath has earned a personal fortune. It would be wrong for the first lines of his corporate obituary to focus on his salary, controversial though it has at times been. And while he leaves under a shadow of allegations over financial impropriety, there is no escaping the fact that what Sir Martin built, and what he achieved, deserves high praise.

Questions over his future had been surfacing for months, with some WPP insiders and investors frustrated by the grip Sir Martin held over the firm, its structure and direction. Expect these issues to explode into open debate over the months ahead, not least given the pressures on advertising spending and strategy.

The industry is under huge pressure, as Sir Martin recognised when conceding that the company had taken “a walloping” after weak results last year. Some analysts are confident that a breakup of the group is now on the cards, but others maintain that Sorrell's model – the one stop shop – still makes sense. Regardless, many, including senior figures at WPP's competitors, are having a hard time picturing the company without the man who built it still sitting in the throne.

The crown has slipped, and the crown jewels may well be up for grabs.

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