So what’s Mark Read got to do to get the WPP CEO job?

Read (below) is currently joint COO with Andrew Scott in the wake of Sir Martin Sorrell’s departure but he seems to be the front runner, speaking at WPP’s AGM this week and sending out a note to staff saying WPP was going to be nicer following revelations in the FT of Sorrell’s imperious ways.

Chairman Roberto Quarta, who must be wondering why he took this job, says the search for a CEO is ongoing: the lucky candidate must be tech-savvy, client-centric and, er, nice. Sounds like a job for a woman, maybe Lindsay Pattison who’s still on the scene.

At the same time as the AGM, WPP released a four month trading update which wasn’t bad but didn’t indicate it was firing on all cylinders either. Reported revenue less pass through costs (a new accountancy nuisance) was down five per cent at nearly £4bn, blamed on currency movements. Like for like revenue was up marginally the company says. North America remains the biggest problem with sales down 2.4 per cent. Debt was up yet again, now approaching nearly £5bn although WPP no longer seems to be buying anything that moves.

So the wheels haven’t come off – yet.

For most of this time Sorrell was in the driving seat. Read was off running Wunderman, which does seem to be performing. He used to be a main board director but left the board when he took over a Wunderman, Sorrell not seeming to like operational bosses on the board. Read has done a good job at Wunderman, the only agency-owned digital outfit challenging the likes of Accenture in terms of scale. As newly-minted joint COO he’s presumably been involved (with Scott) in some much-needed house cleaning including waving goodbye to controversial Sorrell favourite Gustavo Martinez.

Is he tough enough to get the top job, which may involve playing hardball with Sorrell over the £19m or so he still seems due to receive from what to all extents and purposes is a competitor to his new vehicle S4. Quarta, quoting Sorrell, says S4 is a “peanut” but it could still jam up the works at WPP if it lures away any big clients.

If Quarta is serious about a new, more inclusive WPP he ought to listen to his senior managers and staff and we reckon they’d say: Read please.

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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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