WPP lid on Sorrell investigation lets down shareholders

When the CEO and founder of a big public company resigns in a hurry over allegations of “personal misconduct,” seemingly involving some money, you might expect shareholders to be apprised of the result of the investigation. At the very least the need for one suggests corporate governance failings.

But, in the case of departing WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell (below), that’s not going to happen it seems – at least if WPP gets its own way. WPP says: “That investigation has now concluded and Sir Martin Sorrell has stepped down. WPP will be making no further comment.”

Sorrell has been allowed to retire, with further share-based bonuses of up to £20m due to vest over the next five years. All very convenient and, very possibly, the consequence of all those expensive lawyers on the case.

Lib Dem party leader in the UK Vince Cable has added significantly to pressure on the WPP board to come clean, citing a “lack of transparency” and an attempt by the WPP board to sweep the issue “under the carpet.”

At the same time the Financial Times has been emphasising that Sorrell, who appears to have had his own version of a “zero hours” contract, is free to compete with WPP as soon as he likes. Which will bring a wry grimace to the faces of those who, like the founders of adam&eve, were sued up hill and down dale for allegedly breaking the terms of their agreements with WPP-owned agencies.

Sorrell, of course, may decide his empire building days are over. But the example of Sir Frank Lowe comes to mind. When the founder of his eponymous agency fell out with Interpublic he upped sticks and set up The Red Brick Road, with the Tesco account. Lowe, now part of MullenLowe, never recaptured those glory days in the UK. Might Sorrell have such a move in mind?

If he did though, might WPP re-think its position on its investigation findings?

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