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Paul Frampton: Mark Read must be given time to set the purpose of WPP

By Paul Frampton | Chief Executive

September 3, 2018 | 4 min read

It’s befitting of the reputation that Mark Read has, that his appointment as the captain of WPP is getting as much fanfare as the departure of the architect of the empire he will inherit.

Many have already and will continue to share their words of wisdom about what Mark should do first. To be honest, it’s Mark and Mark only, alongside his leadership team, that should make those decisions, but of course many will throw in their tuppence worth in the meantime.

Rather than add my own partially informed viewpoint, I wanted to instead share my hopes for WPP 2.0 and for Mark.

Sorrell was remarkable in many ways as a businessman and deal maker but of the many column inches he has commanded over the decades, few have been dedicated to celebrating his style of leadership. WPP was his life’s work but as a result, the business was too anchored to him as CEO with the absence of succession planning the most obvious flaw in his leadership. A frightening lack of attention to diversity and an obsessive need to dominate any situation or debate were also key attributes of his long reign. In some ways, from the outside at least, he appeared to be the archetypal capitalist CEO operating a command and control, top-down, need-to-know approach to running his business.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that great leadership today is defined by those able to outline an inspiring vision, create culture and a sense of belonging, whilst evidencing emotional intelligence and authenticity. It is not city based analysts alone who have scratched their heads trying to understand WPP’s purpose post building the most potent empire in advertising.

Some may critique Sadoun of Publicis for more storytelling over substance but there is a clear narrative there to counter the industry’s biggest threats - namely technology and management consultants. What is WPP’s?

It is for that reason that I hope that Mark is given the time and support to re-set the purpose and culture of WPP. His expertise in digital and technology make him well positioned to architect a different proposition but in all the coverage around Read’s appointment I see almost no mention of the 130,000 people that will work for him. Daily for almost a year, they have read about the exploits of their departed leader, plans for re structuring and divesting assets and now endless analysis of his successor. Just think for a second what that is like as an experience for a WPP employee in London, Lisbon or Lima.

130,000 people is a huge community; in fact it is almost exactly the population of my beloved white isle, Ibiza. That’s a lot of people looking for leadership, who want to be inspired and feel part of an exciting new journey. Once Mark has deservedly had his fanfare, let the man focus on engaging his remarkable talent across the world. The FT’s and Bloomberg’s and ad trade press will continue to dissect and pontificate but Mark’s success will come from working out what port the WPP ship is sailing for next and then getting everyone aboard and rowing in the same direction. I wish you the very best of luck Sir.

Paul Frampton is the CEO U.K. & Ireland of Tink Labs and the former chief executive of Havas UK.

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