Sorrell is back with “next generation” advertising group

All those people who dismissed 73 year-old Martin Sorrell as too old to start again are now eating their words.

The energetic Sorrell began dropping hints about returning to the fray not long after he was forced out of WPP six weeks ago, and he is already back in business with a new company called S4, which is named after the four generations of the Sorrell family, according to Sky News.

WPP may be regretting letting Sorrell go without a non-compete clause, and shareholders — already riled that the board is keeping Sorrell’s misconduct under wraps — will almost certainly bring this up at WPP’s AGM in a couple of weeks’ time.

Although Sorrell’s legacy at WPP is not as a great innovator in the digital age, or as a leader of transformation in the industry, he has the knowledge and experience – not to mention the contacts – to have a good go at creating a “next generation” advertising group, which is apparently his mission.

In order to achieve this, the former WPP CEO (who is still a significant shareholder in WPP) has become executive chairman of Derriston Capital, a listed cash shell created in 2016, which is set to acquire S4 Capital imminently.

It’s just like old times. Sorrell bought Wire and Plastic Products, a maker of supermarket trollies, in 1986, and built it up into the worlds biggest marketing services company with a peak valuation of £16 billion.

The former WPP CEO, you will remember, left in April amid personal misconduct allegations, which have never been made public and so are still the subject of furious rumour and speculation across the industry. He denies any wrongdoing.

Sorrell’s immense pay packet was always a controversial subject, and the £40 million cash he is committing to the new venture will still leave him plenty to play with: he earned £70 million in 2016 alone. S4 is reportedly attracting another £10 million coming from investors including Schroders, Lombard Odier, Lord Rothschild’s RIT Capital Partners and Toscafund.

His appearance at Cannes will take on a whole new level of interest, as observers wait to see whether Sorrell really has the vision to create a “next generation” advertising group.

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About Emma Hall

Emma Hall
Emma Hall is the former London Editor of Ad Age, where she covered European marketing advertising, digital and media stories. She has written for newspapers including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times and the Telegraph, and was previously a section editor at Campaign. Emma started her career in New York as a researcher for a biography of Keith Richards.

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