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I’m in for the long haul buoyant Sorrell tells bankers while grumpy James Murdoch threatens to quit UK

You can’t beat a conference in Barcelona to attract the top talent at this time of year and the Morgan Stanley TMT talk-fest on at the moment has attracted, inter alia, WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell and News Corporation’s James Murdoch.

Sorrell, who’s getting quite frisky these days, told the assembled bankers and analysts that, despite turning 65 in February, he was going to stay on as boss of WPP “for as long as you lot will have me.”

He said the business looked at succession plans every four or five years and that, eventually, the group would appoint someone “who will do the job better than me.”

As to the near future he said that sales at WPP remained strong, matching the 4.5 per cent growth achieved in the first ten months of the years. He put this down in part to clients investing in brands and market share rather than taking the much bigger bet of opening new factories. Next year’s budgets, as far as he could see, were likely to remain at about the same strong level.

He also said that WPP was unlikely to make any big acquisitions any time soon and was likely to return cash to shareholders. That didn’t stop mischievous Martin speculating that Aegis and Havas were about to announce a merger when Aegis boss Jerry Buhlmann and Havas’s Fernando Rodes Vila failed to turn up to the conference (Buhlmann was stuck on the runway at Heathrow through fog).

Sorrell might change his mind of course, particularly if Publicis Groupe’s Maurice Levy keeps brandishing his cheque book.

As for James Murdoch, son of Rupert and heir apparent to the News Corporation empire, he’s quite the gruffalo these days.

He hinted heavily that News might consider relocating its pay-TV business Sky from Britain if business secretary Vince Cable and the coalition government government vetoed News’ £8bn bid for the 61 per cent of Sky it doesn’t currently own.

Cable is looking into the bid on ‘plurality’ considerations following heavy pressure from the BBC, the Mail, Telegraph and Channel 4 among others who fear an even richer News.

Murdoch said that News had created 30,000 jobs directly in Britain since setting up shop here back in the 1960s including making the UK a world centre of the commercial TV broadcast business thanks to Sky. So just watch it Vince, was the clear message.

James has become increasingly combative since stepping down as CEO of Sky to become boss of all News’ UK activities.

Two years ago he declared war on the BBC in his keynote speech at the Edinburgh International TV Festival, an outburst that surely had something to do with the Beeb’s outspoken opposition to the current Sky bid, for which BBC director-general Mark Thompson has had his knuckles rapped by the BBC Trust.

Dad Rupert, who has always been careful to do his politicking behind the scenes, might have a quiet word with his voluble offspring.

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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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