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Sorrell calls in lawyers as WPP witholds share awards over ‘media leaks’

Sorrell calls in lawyers as WPP refuse share awards over ‘media leaks’

Sir Martin Sorrell has sought legal advice after his former employer WPP refused to pay out hundreds of thousands of pounds in share awards owed over the past five years.

WPP has suspended payments based on allegations that Sorrell leaked "confidential information" to the media following his departure from the advertising business he founded. In response, Sorrell has blasted the "petty move" and described WPP's actions as "nonsense".

Why Sorrell and WPP are feuding

  • Sorrell resigned from WPP three years ago amid a contentious investigation into allegations of personal misconduct – strenuously denied by Sorrell to this day.

  • At the time WPP reserved the rights to withhold monies owed to Sorrell, who co-founded the business and ran it for 33 years until 2018, but has only now made good on that threat.

  • Confirming that the payments had been switched off in its annual report on Thursday (29 April), WPP attributed the decision to its compensation committee, stating that it had "exercised its discretion" to make "malus" (financial penalty) adjustments.

  • “Awards granted to Sir Martin Sorrell, the former group chief executive, will lapse as a result of Sir Martin Sorrell’s disclosure of confidential information belonging to WPP and certain of its clients to the media during his tenure as a WPP director," the report said.

  • A WPP spokesperson told The Drum: “Given the disclosure by the former group chief executive of confidential information belonging to WPP and certain of its clients to the media during his tenure as a WPP director, the compensation committee acted wholly appropriately, taking account of all relevant considerations, in exercising the malus adjustments."

What Sorrell says

  • The decision has reopened old wounds with Sorrell denouncing the move as petty and motivated by jealousy at the rapid growth of rival S4 Capital which he now helms.

  • In a statement issued to The Drum and others, Sorrell said: "It’s a bit rich that they’re accusing me of leaks, given their own over the last three years. WPP has had to go back several years to try and find an excuse to deny me what’s mine. I’ve left it to my lawyers to deal with.”

  • Sorrell's statement made reference to "peanut envy", an allusion to his 2018 description of S4 as a "peanut" upon launch.

  • "I refer to it as being a peanut, and I can’t believe people would be worried about a peanut," he said in 2018, "although it does occur to me that some people have peanut allergies and it may be that that’s the problem. We’ll have to find a suppressant."

  • Today he went a step further, adding: "It seems like blind rage is driving them, not peanut or even coconut envy."

  • The clash comes as WPP chief exec Mark Read toasted a return to growth for his business. WPP saw a 1.8% rise in revenues in the last quarter, buoyed by a resumption of activity by marketers and advertisers following Covid-19 cutbacks.

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