Could simmering pay row lead to Sorrell’s shock departure from WPP?

Long-term relationships break up for the silliest of reasons – continued failure to put the top back on the toothpaste etc – and the row over pay between Sir Martin Sorrell (left) and his shareholders at WPP may turn out to have the same, unintended consequence.

The Independent reports today that Sorrell is still refusing to cut his pay (he received £13m in total last year despite 60 per cent of shareholders voting against it in a non-binding vote) while WPP chairman Philip Lader is embarking on a ‘second round of consultations’ on the issue. During the first they essentially told him to get lost.

Sorrell, it seems, thinks that he’s still underpaid in relation to his peers, who we assume to be the likes of John Wren at Omnicom and Maurice Levy at Publicis Groupe. If he sees his peer group as the head honchos at Apple and Google then there’ll never be an agreement. But it’s possible that he does.

But would Sorrell, who has amassed a £100m fortune, really walk out on the biggest marcoms company in the world, one he created from scratch over the past quarter century, just over a million here or there?

Bizarrely people do. It’s the Ashley Cole test. ‘Cashley,’ England’s left back then at Arsenal, walked out on the club because he heard that a new player was getting paid more than him. He didn’t need the money (most footballers find it difficult to spend it all) but this blow to his wallet equated to a blow to his pride.

We hear occasionally from WPP shareholders. What’s Lader telling them this time round?

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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.