Home / Finance / WPP’s Sorrell will be aware that most business leaders eventually reach their Waterloo

WPP’s Sorrell will be aware that most business leaders eventually reach their Waterloo

I see from Mail Online that WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell attended the recent Fifa Congress that saw the re-election and then resignation of Sepp Blatter (along with the arrest of numerous Blatter acolytes).

Sorrell had offered to help Blatter spruce up his image (not for the first time it seems) but the initiative was confounded by the intervention of the FBI. A grey swan turning into a whopping great black one perhaps.

None of which suggests that Sorrell, who faces the by now customary shareholder opposition to his pay and rewards (£43m and rising) at today’s AGM, is seeking cover from his enemies. Chutzpah isn’t the half of it, although I’d beware of cosying up to Blatter.

More interesting than the revolt over pay (which Sorrell will bat off, citing WPP’s profit, dividend and share price increases in recent years) is the issue of succession.

The FT’s Lex column notes that new WPP chairman Roberto Quarta needs to find “an heir and possibly a spare” for 70-year old Sorrell. Sorrell’s response has always been that that’s something the board discusses regularly, without offering any details. Shareholders might reasonably ask Sorrell to disclose more details today, assuming a detailed plan really exists.

Lex also reminds Sir Martin that this year is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, which brought an end to the career of another diminutive emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. In the UK Napoleon’s defeat is usually ascribed to Wellington, commander of the (mainly) British contingent in the Allied army. But the clinching factor was the belated arrival of Blucher’s Prussians, leaving Napoleon hopelessly outnumbered.

Has Sorrell, with his stout defence of his pay (more than twice as much as any other FTSE100 CEO), left himself isolated and therefore open to an attack from left field? If so, the attack is likely to come on the succession issue.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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