Home / Advertisers / What do Martin Sorrell and Alex Ferguson have in common? The answer isn’t knighthoods..

What do Martin Sorrell and Alex Ferguson have in common? The answer isn’t knighthoods..

WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell must be absolutely hating this.

Ever since new WPP chairman Roberto Quarta let the cat out of the bag by saying WPP was reviewing ‘internal and external’ candidates to succeed the great man, speculation has been rife as to who that fortunate/unfortunate person will be be.

As Omnicom’s Peter Mead told Campaign, it’s rather like taking over from Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson and what a vale of tears that has proved to be.

We had our try last week ago with Dentsu Aegis’ Jerry Buhlmann ticking the most boxes. He sold media buyer Aegis to Dentsu for £3.6bn and also rapidly disposed of Synovate, Aegis’ market research division. Whoever comes into WPP – and there’s no guarantee 71 year-old Sorrell (below) won’t still be there in ten years’ time – will have to look at disposals if only to reject the notion. The Kantar research operation (20 per cent or so of the company) is the obvious one to go; research is a low margin game these days. Our other top contender was The&Partnership’s Johnny Hornby. Johnny seems to be emerging as the people’s choice, which will please him no end.
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Campaign’s estimable John Tylee spoke to a number of luminaries this week, among whom was Maurice Levy, described rather quaintly as ‘Chariman’ and CEO of Publicis Groupe. Maurice and Martin don’t get on, liking nothing better than winding each other up (Sorrell being the worst offender). Levy is retiring as CEO in 2017 although it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he stayed in some capacity. One doubts, though, that Maurice and Martin will be playing boules together in retirement, followed by a good lunch.

Levy told Campaign: “Sorrell’s successor? It could be a man or a woman in their late forties or early fifties who is strategic, a visionary, somebody who understands clients’ issues and the need for transformation. They need to be a leader – charismatic, a good operator and a team player. And they need to be driven. Experience in advertising, media and digital would be appreciated.”

Fair enough. But went on:

“I would add that whoever succeeds needs to be a good human being – not wicked and nasty, generous and not greedy, sharing and not selfish or egotistical.”

So Levy doesn’t think it should be someone wicked, nasty, greedy, selfish and egotistical. That’s quite a charge list. Wonder who he’s thinking of?

Adam-CrozierTo add to the candidates also reviewed by us (Buhlmann, Hornby, Kantar’s Eric Salama and WPP Digital’s Mark Read) Campaign added Anne Sweeney, who used to run a big division of Disney (sounds like a token woman to me), TalkTalk’s Dido Harding (ditto although she does run a quoted company), and ITV’s Adam Crozier. Crozier (left) began his career at Saatchi & Saatchi, taking the top UK job when the brothers were defenestrated. He’s also run The Royal Mail and The Football Association. Hmm, maybe.

Unilever marketing boss Keith Weed also gets a shout. He’s never run a big PLC but neither had Dave Lewis when he moved from Unilever to Tesco (although he had run Unilever’s Personal Care division which is bigger than most quoted companies).

Our external outsiders included BBDO’s Andrew Robertson and adam&eveDDB’s James Murphy.

For the moment though this is mostly harmless fun. Sorrell won’t see it that way, he may even think it destabilising, not just for him but the company too.

He usually shows up at the Cannes Lions, there to see (among other things) WPP crowned as the Holding Company of the Year. Will anyone have the cojones to ask him about his retirement plans?

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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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