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Cannes: Sorrell talks mortality and management style, and hits out at WPP leaks

There’s been plenty of gossip about Martin Sorrell at Cannes, mainly speculation about whether there are more revelations to come and who might succeed him at WPP.

The man himself finally made his first public appearance since he was ousted from WPP, speaking at a venue that was wholly unfamiliar to the multi-millionaire – a small Irish pub at the wrong end of the Croisette, which is The Drum’s HQ for the duration of the festival.

Martin Sorrell with Drum editor Stephen Lepitak

He arrived without an entourage, but apart from that, Sorrell seemed undiminished. His tendency to pontificate on the state of the industry, and on WPP, remains unchanged, and his love of a sound bite is also intact.

Asked about the misconduct allegations against him, Sorrell admitted calling people “bozo” and “pudding,” and said that his management style didn’t make him the easiest person in the world to get along with.

One can imagine the names he has been calling WPP execs who leaked details of the misconduct allegations against him to the Wall Street Journal in April, starting the chain of events that led to his downfall. He criticised WPP for not treating employees equally and said he had requested an investigation “a considerable time ago” but nothing had happened.

The 73 year-old also volunteered an awareness of his own mortality. “I agree, I’ve not got another 33 years in me. I’m looking at the next seven years and then I will look at another cycle, depending on my physical and mental condition.”

Sorrell has been presenting his new venture, S4 Capital, as a “peanut” compared to WPP, but couldn’t resist a dig at his former company. “Looking at some of the stuff that emanates from Cannes I feel that the industry is stuck in the past. S4 Capital is totally different to WPP, though WPP is moving towards that territory.”

On succession, Sorrell was emphatic. He thinks Mark Read and Andrew Scott should – at least for the next few years – be joint CEOs. Not, he said, because no single individual could possibly replace him, but because the two have complementary skills and neither one could do the job alone. But he added, “They never listened to me in the last few weeks and there’s no reason why they should change, but that’s my advice.”

This was Sorrell’s succession plan, so he’s bound to stand by it, and he’s still annoyed that people think he didn’t have one. “There was always a plan based on the ‘hit by a bus’ scenario, which I guess I was. Or shot,” he said rather dryly.

The self-deprecation continued as Sorrell hinted at the plans for his new venture, S4 Capital. “This is a very optimistic and grand ambition, but we want to deal at the highest levels and at the same time be able to tactically implement in a totally new way. By that I mean more agile, more responsive, less beaurocratic and more creative.” He also wants to get more creative with data. You and everyone else, Sir Martin.

To finish, Sorrell gave out his email address to the audience. Asked if he answered the email himself, he said “I’m not a robot. Or maybe I am. That may be one of the problems. Ask my wife.”

PS You could feel the frustration as Sorrell has to watch WPP from the sidelines. He criticised the group for selling off a stake in Latin American software group Globant this week, saying that what they need is more of Globant, not less, because the company is one of the few digital disruption forces that can compete with the consultancies.

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