Campaign Middle East


John Tylee looks at some potential candidates to become WPP’s next chief executive and asks what qualities are needed to lead the world’s biggest marcoms group


At some point, we all leave our jobs. The question is when.” And so Roberto Quarta, chairman of WPP, set the hare bolting.

The subject of who will succeed Sir Martin Sorrell, 71, as chief executive of the world’s biggest marketing services company has been on the burner for more than a decade now. Now Quarta has turned up the heat. Whether Sorrell resigns “tomorrow, in one, two, three, four or five years, or even over a longer period we have already begun to identify internal and external candidates who should be considered. Shareowner­s should have no doubt that we already have a strong pool of internal and external candidates to draw from.”

So who? An adlander? A financier? A Brit? A woman? Campaign asks around.


of business, I take it personally. It’s very much part of me.”


“Finding Sorrell’s successor is going to be a real challenge. That person will not only need the entreprene­urial flair Sorrell has always demonstrat­ed but will be somebody with proven experience in managing large organisati­ons with so many disparate divisions.

“The danger is that you find a very efficient corporate manager who doesn’t understand the creative nature of the business. The kind of person WPP needs is very rare. Some will claim there’s no difference between running one big company and another. But there is. Look how long it has taken Interpubli­c to return to good health. And you wonder what will happen to Publicis Groupe and Omnicom when their charismati­c leaders, Maurice Lévy and John Wren, depart.

“What’s more, Sorrell’s successor will have to be somebody who can maintain the highlevel client contacts that he does. That person will already have to be very experience­d in dealing with big clients.”


within several divisions, whoever succeeds Sorrell will need to be able to communicat­e with and win the support of these different groups. It would be difficult for an internal appointee, who will be tarred with the brush of whatever part of the company they come from.

“At the same time, WPP remains a prolific acquirer of companies and it’s unlikely that somebody from an advertisin­g background has much experience in M&A activity.

“Also, Sorrell is different from the leaders of other major marcoms groups because he has positioned himself as a commentato­r on the global economy. Recruiting somebody who could take over that role would be an enormous challenge.”


“Remember that WPP grew out of a company making supermarke­t trolleys, so it’s vital that Sorrell’s successor can continue to grow what Sorrell has built and do it through team-building on a global stage.

“Sorrell has created a global business and continues helping his clients do likewise.

“It’s also important to remember that WPP is a service business even more than a creative one and that whoever replaces Sorrell will need to have a huge amount of fiscal experience.

“That means WPP shouldn’t be limiting its search to somebody with good experience of the creative industries. Simply looking for a high-flyer at the top of Interpubli­c would be unwise. Adaptabili­ty is going to be much more important. Maybe Sorrell should write his own job spec.”


“Sorrell’s successor? It could be a man or a woman in their late forties or early fifties who is strategic, a visionary, somebody who understand­s clients’ issues and the need for transforma­tion. They need to be a leader – charismati­c, a good operator and a team player. And they need to be driven. Experience in advertisin­g, media and digital would be appreciate­d.

“I would add that whoever succeeds needs to be a good human being – not wicked and nasty, generous and not greedy, sharing and not selfish or egotistica­l.”


“Obviously, we support proper succession planning that gives boards the time needed to find the right candidate.

“We believe all recruitmen­t processes should be transpar-

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