Despite reports of revenge and bitter acrimony, it appears Sir Martin Sorrell still has plenty of love in his heart for his old company, WPP.
Sorrell has revealed he is still a significant shareholder in the company he formed back in 1971 and that’s despite being unceremoniously dumped as CEO last April amid allegations of personal misconduct.
Yesterday, Sir Martin told the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, that he wanted WPP to do well.
Speaking to news site CNBC, Sorrell said: “I remain a shareholder, and I think I’m the largest individual shareholder or a top 10 shareholder, in WPP so I’m very concerned about the progress that WPP makes too.
“Obviously it’s not been an easy period over the last six months or so in terms of major clients at WPP but having said that we’re very focused on that progress,” he said.
Since his departure, the 73-year-old Sorrell has poured his efforts into his new venture, S4 Capital, that many saw as a direct threat to WPP’s businesses.
In July last year, S4 acquired Dutch digital production firm MediaMonks for $463 million and in December bought San Francisco-based programmatic ad firm MightyHive for $204 million.
However, Sorrell has denied that S4 is any threat to WPP. “I can’t, for the life of me, believe that WPP is worried about little old S4Capital,” he told CNBC.
“We’re focused on three things: first-party data, digital content and programmatic media planning and, last but not least, is programmatic media planning and buying,” he said.
On the claims he was punted from WPP for misconduct, Sorrell said the company had “investigated the background to it (the allegation) and found nothing material. We moved on from then and I decided to go off and start something new.”
Not that WPP isn’t without its own worries. Late last year, a plunging share price and shrinking ad market forced newly-installed CEO, Mark Read, to announce 3500 job cuts from the company’s global workforce and the closure of as many as 80 of its agencies worldwide.
Many of the roles to be made redundant were back office jobs, with Read stating the company would re-invest in its creative agencies.
“We are fundamentally repositioning WPP as a creative transformation company with a simpler offer that allows us to meet the present and future needs of clients,” Read said at the time.
While Sorrell’s newfound affection for WPP may come as a bit of a shock to his former colleagues.
Just before Christmas, a senior WPP executive publicly chastised Sorrell for continually talking down the world’s biggest media company and his replacement, Read.
Johnny Hornby, CEO of WPP’s London-based The & Partnership, said Sorrell’s constant sniping was “disrespectful” and made him “look small”.
“When he left in the summer the company badly needed a change of direction and strategy that Martin had not delivered and he should allow Mark to get on now unhindered,” Hornby said.
Sorell had previously described WPP as a “car crash in slow motion” and its senior management as being “too Anglo”.