WPP will name company insider Mark Read as its new chief executive next week after the world’s largest advertising group decided against an external hire to replace its founder, Sir Martin Sorrell. Read has been running WPP on an interim basis since Sorrell resigned in controversial and acrimonious circumstances in April. Read is a WPP veteran whose time at the group includes 10 years on the board, and had been tipped as the favourite internal candidate for the job. He previously ran WPP Digital, the arm responsible for the group’s digital investments, and more recently served as chief executive of WPP subsidiary Wunderman, the international marketing network.
His appointment is expected to be confirmed on Tuesday next week, when WPP announces its half-year results, although it could come later in September. WPP declined to comment on Read’s promotion, which was first revealed by the Financial Times.
Within weeks of Sorrell’s departure, Read launched an internal review of company conduct rules, after allegations emerged that the former chief executive had bullied staff. Sorrell denies the claims.
After a stormy annual meeting in June, the company’s first since Sorrell’s departure, Read said “Martin was a hard-working and hard-driving chief executive. I don’t recognise … the bullying nature of some of the allegations.”
But he did indicate that Sorrell’s successor was unlikely to adopt the same style as the famously pugnacious advertising guru. “Can one man run the company? Nobody can run it like he did,” he said.
WPP took the unusual step of hiring a New York-based recruiter to lead a global search to replace Sorrell. Russell Reynolds, a top five global executive search firm, was understood to be working with Frances Illingworth, WPP’s global head of recruitment.
The move to bring in an external executive search firm was extremely rare for WPP, which traditionally handles most of its executive recruitment in-house.
Read will have to deal with the fallout from his predecessor’s departure, including a dispute between Sorrell and the company over his £266m takeover of Dutch agency MediaMonks.
He will also be tasked with turning the company’s financial fortunes around, after WPP issued a number of warnings about growth last year on its way to reporting its worst financial year since the 2009 recession. It has also seen its market value slashed by a third.
But the company that Sorrell took over when it was a wire shopping basket maker in 1985 remains the world’s largest advertising empire, comprising a network of 400 companies.
After three decades at the helm, Sorrell resigned in the wake of an internal investigation into his conduct and alleged misuse of company funds, which has not been established.
Claims over the background to the investigation subsequently emerged, including allegations that he bullied staff and was seen by two employees entering a sex worker’s premises in a London red-light district. Sorrell has strenuously denied the allegations.