The tension between WPP and its former CEO appears to have reached boiling point, after once of the agency network’s senior executives urged Sir Martin Sorrell to stop “talking down” the company, while the adland veteran returned fire claiming WPP had become too “Anglo-orientated”.
Yesterday, the CEO of WPP’s London-based The & Partnership, Johnny Hornby, said Sorrell should stop “talking down” the company and its new CEO Mark Read.
“It’s disrespectful to them and makes him look small,” Hornby said.
“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,” he added.
Hornby’s comments come ahead of a summit at WPP’s London headquarters tomorrow where Read will set out his vision to share holders in a bit to turn around the company’s fortunes.
Hornby’s comments appear to be in retaliation to an extensive interview Sorrell gave to Britain’s Mail On Sunday and recent reports he’d already pissed off WPP management when he claimed his new venture, S4 Capital, was already “two-nil up on WPP” after it purchased MediaMonks in July and the US ad tech firm MightyHive last week.
For its part, WPP has denied ever making a bid for MightyHive.
Adding to the rancour, Sorrell recently described WPP has being a “car crash in slow motion” and that business had become too London-focused under Read.
Sorrell said: “Senior management haven’t been travelling enough and there’s a feeling that it’s Fortress Britain.”
When it came to his sudden departure from WPP in April amid allegations of financial impropriety and reports he’d used company money to pay prostitutes, Sorrell told The Mail On Sunday: “Having gone through what I went through, I decided in May to embark on a new enterprise,” he said. “A clean sheet of paper. It’s obviously not easy – because the good news is you have a clean sheet of paper, the bad news is that I obviously miss the scale of WPP.
“But we’re starting to build a good operation… and I think it can actually be really exciting. I can’t say how far we’ll go or what we’ll do [but] I’m finding it very interesting and absorbing and challenging. There are lots of opportunities, so we’ll see how it goes,” he said.
Sorrell said he would be “foolish” to speculate on how big S4 could become (it’s currently valued at £380 million or $A672 million), but hasn’t exactly dismissed it one day rivalling WPP (worth £11 billion or $A19.4 billion) and possibly even buying the business back.
He referred to S4 as a “speck” in the rear view mirror of the “car crash” WPP. “If you’re in a car crash, and you stop, the speck catches up quite quickly,” he said.
Meanwhile in other WPP news, Sky News has reported over the weekend that the company is attempting to exit the TV business by selling its UK production company The Farm Group.
The Farm Group is behind TV hits such as The X Factor and The Grand Tour with WPP owning 75 per cent of the business.
Sky is reporting that there is “substantial” interest in the business with reports it would fetch WPP £50 million ($A88 million).