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Mark Read: a glimpse of the ‘shoes off’ version of WPP’s CEO

Apparently the original plan was to interview WPP CEO Mark Read on a psychiatrist’s couch, but his team, quite understandably, nuked the idea.

The Advertising Week audience was promised it would find out what the “shoes off” Mark Read is really like, and while the session didn’t go quite that far, it did give more insight into the spirit of Read and his new-look WPP than we have yet seen.

Asked who helps him through on tough days, Read painted a picture of a team effort at WPP, which seemed very different to the autocratic regime of his predecessor, Martin Sorrell.

“I’m not a believer in burdening my family with all the problems of work, or bottling it up, or opening a bottle to compensate – although I do that from time to time,” he said. “I think a problem shared is a problem halved, so between Andrew (Scott, COO), Chris Wade (group communications director) Lindsay (Pattison, chief transformation officer) and Karen (Blackett, UK country manager) I have a great team of people.”

The move to Sea Container’s House was also credited with creating a better spirit at WPP. “The view is amazing and on a sunny day you feel like everything is possible,” Read said. “That’s been a really good move culturally as well.”

Read also revealed that he doesn’t obsess over WPP’s share price – it’s not the first thing he looks at in the morning or the last thing at night. He said: “We have plenty of accountants and finance people to manage the margins and all that stuff, so I’m focused on having a business that does great work and grows; everything else will follow from that. If I could have a system that every day told me if we are growing or not growing, that’s what I’d like.”

The WPP CEO is giving his leaders more of a free reign with finances than they have been used to. Read said: “We are creating a more empowered financial culture inside the organisation, where we really trust people to run the business. Financially it’s less controlling.” The days of Sorrell demanding daily numbers from his CEOs are clearly over.

WPP’s “Creative transformation company” tag seems to be taking hold, and Read is adhering very dutifully to his own line. He said: “When the word ‘Dreamworks’ comes up at the start of a film, you know that’s a creative organisation. I’d like, when the WPP logo goes up, for people to have the same visceral reaction; to think it’s an organisation staffed with brilliant creative people who can help me transform my business.”

Read was keen to stress the importance of agency brands and said that the success of the JWT-Wunderman merger will be judged first on whether people get on, and second on whether they have retained the creative DNA of JWT and the tech DNA of Wunderman. “WPP should be a great company with great brands inside of it,” he said. “There’s no conflict between those two things any more.”

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