Sir Martin Sorrell, the former chief executive of WPP, has denied allegations made in two newspapers reporting the reason for his sudden departure from the advertising network earlier this year.
Both The Wall Street Journal and The Daily Mail have printed reports claiming to detail Sorrell's ‘personal misconduct’ and his 'misuse' of company assets which were the focus of the WPP investigation. On this, the company only revealed that the funds involved did not “involve amounts which are material to WPP".
Rumours have been rife over what instigated the investigation, even before Sorrell resigned, with Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable calling for more clarity and accusing the advertising agency network of sweeping the reason “under the carpet”.
The reports have been published one week ahead of the group’s first AGM meeting without Sorrell at the helm. Chairman Roberto Quarta’s own role in the lack of transparency around the resignation is likely to be questioned here.
Within weeks of his resignation, Sorrell signalled a return to the advertising sector, having announced the intention to create a new business, S4 Capital, which raised questions about whether he would look to battle with his former network, despite still holding a large number of shares in the business, something he would later deny.
When the original investigation was announced, Sorrell also issued a denial, stating: "Reports in the media have stated that WPP is investigating an allegation of financial impropriety by me, specifically as to the use of company funds.
“This allegation is being investigated by a law firm. I reject the allegation unreservedly but recognise that the company has to investigate it. I understand that this process will be completed shortly.”
In response to this morning’s reports, which The Daily Mail cites the source of the allegation as being “a disgruntled chauffeur who lost his job," a spokesperson for Sorrell, said: “Sir Martin signed a non-disclosure agreement when he stepped down which precludes him from discussing any of the circumstances surrounding his departure. He has rigidly adhered to this obligation and will continue to do so.”
Responding to the allegations published in The Wall Street Journal and the Daily Mail, the statement added: “Sir Martin strenuously denies them. He will be making no further comment at this time.”
In response to the news, WPP issued the following: “WPP has been advised that it cannot disclose details of the allegations against Sir Martin Sorrell because it is prohibited by data protection law from giving such details. Sir Martin chose to resign at the conclusion of the investigation by independent legal counsel.”
It is also understood that Sorrell is receiving legal advice over the reports. On leaving WPP, Sorrell issued the following message to all staff:
“To everyone at WPP
For the past 33 years, I have spent every single day thinking about the future of WPP.
Over those decades, our family has grown and prospered.
We welcomed J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy, Young & Rubicam, Grey, 24/7 Real Media, Taylor Nelson Sofres, among so many others.
We created GroupM, including Xaxis and Essence.
We put the focus on Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East and Central Eastern Europe, the home of the next billion consumers. We embarked on the early development of digital capabilities; and the evolution of a firm-wide integrated client and country-centered approach.
Our holding company was recognized as the world’s best and most effective through the Cannes Lions and Effie Awards year after year after year.
We pioneered Atticus Awards for original written thinking…. the WPP Fellowship Awards to recognize promising talent…. the Partnership and Practice Awards for client endorsed integrated market and case studies.
Our Stream digital conferences have attracted the best in the digital business for more than a decade.
Our Annual Sustainability and Pro Bono Reports highlight the unique social, environmental and public policy work that we do day in, day out across the globe.
As I look ahead, I see that the current disruption we are experiencing is simply putting too much unnecessary pressure on the business, our over 200,000 people and their 500,000 or so dependents, and the clients we serve in 112 countries.
That is why I have decided that in your interest, in the interest of our clients, in the interest of all shareowners, both big and small, and in the interest of all our other stakeholders, it is best for me to step aside.
We have had a succession plan in place for some time. A new generation of management, led by Mark Read and Andrew Scott (who have each been at WPP for approximately 20 years), are well qualified and experienced in the Board’s opinion, to deal with the geographic and technological opportunities and challenges our industry faces.
We have weathered difficult storms in the past. And our highly talented people have always won through, always.
Nobody, either direct competitors or newly-minted ones can beat the WPP team, as long as you work closely together, whether by client and/or country or digitally.
In the coming period, I will be available to the Board and any of you, should you want help with anything, anywhere. I shall miss all of you greatly. You have given me such excitement and energy and I wanted to thank you for everything you have done and will do for WPP and me.
As some of you know, my family has expanded recently, WPP will always be my baby too.
As a Founder, I can say that WPP is not just a matter of life or death, it was, is and will be more important than that. Good fortune and Godspeed to all of you…now Back to the Future.