Lever­age, lunches and lead­er­ship

When The Times car­ried a front-page story about wire-bas­ket man­u­fac­turer Wire and Plas­tic Prod­ucts’ au­da­cious takeover of the JWT Group, the leg­end of WPP was born

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE - Martin Sor­rell is the founder of WPP and ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of S4 Cap­i­tal

Sir Martin Sor­rell, founder of WPP and ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of S4 Cap­i­tal, looks back on the in­dus­try he helped to cre­ate.

There are so many mo­ments to choose from dur­ing my time in the com­mu­ni­ca­tions busi­ness. It could be the time my part­ner Pre­ston Rabl and I met Wire and Plas­tic Prod­ucts’ man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Gor­don Samp­son in 1985 at the Dart­ford wire­works, smelling of vine­gar and chips af­ter a rushed lunch in a fish-and-chip shop on Dart­ford High Street be­cause Gor­don wouldn’t spring for lunch.

It might be be­ing per­son­ally wel­comed by chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive Don John­stone in the lobby of J Wal­ter Thomp­son Com­pany on Lex­ing­ton Av­enue in 1987 af­ter the suc­cess­ful “hos­tile” takeover, and just be­fore find­ing that the free­hold Tokyo build­ing, which Mor­gan Stan­ley val­ued for takeover de­fence pur­poses at $30m, was worth $200m-plus.

Pos­si­bly it was re­ceiv­ing David Ogilvy’s first pub­lic writ­ten apol­ogy typed, as was his wont, on Château de Touf­fou notepa­per, af­ter call­ing me an “OLS” at the height of the “hos­tile” bid for Ogilvy in 1989. It could be throw­ing the first pitch at a San Fran­cisco Gi­ants game in 2000, just be­fore see­ing War­ren Hell­man of Hell­man & Fried­man to agree terms for the merger with Young & Ru­bi­cam fol­low­ing a break­down in ne­go­ti­a­tions. Or ac­quir­ing Ed Meyer’s Grey in 2005 and man­ag­ing to ser­vice hith­erto un­ser­vice­able com­bi­na­tions of clients in the same group.

Or de­feat­ing both Havas, in the bat­tle for CIA in 2001, and Publi­cis, in the bat­tle for Cor­diant in 2003, both of which marked the start of French hos­til­i­ties to­wards WPP. Or de­feat­ing GfK in the bat­tle for Tay­lor Nel­son Sofres in 2008.

Or, in a former ex­is­tence, the re­struc­tur­ing of Saatchi & Saatchi Comp­ton, rel­e­gat­ing Comp­ton Ad­ver­tis­ing Inc to a mi­nor­ity in­ter­est in a sub­sidiary of Saatchi & Saatchi Com­pany plc in 1977, and the ac­qui­si­tion, af­ter, of Dor­land Ad­ver­tis­ing in 1981.

All these, how­ever, pale into in­signif­i­cance in com­par­i­son with the fol­low­ing four events.

First, when I landed at Heathrow Air­port on a Satur­day morn­ing in 1987, af­ter the fi­nal all-night ne­go­ti­a­tion ses­sion with JWT, to be met by Len Spooner of BA Spe­cial Ser­vices with a copy of The Times car­ry­ing a front- and back-page story about the wire-bas­ket man­u­fac­turer Wire and Plas­tic Prod­ucts’ takeover of JWT Group. My par­ents were in­cred­u­lous that The Times, to them a no­to­ri­ously anti-Semitic news­pa­per in pre-WWII times, could fea­ture such a story about the ex­ploits of a lit­tle Jew­ish boy.

Sec­ond, the oc­ca­sions in the 1990s, and then from 2000 un­til to­day, when WPP es­tab­lished clear global lead­er­ship in our in­dus­try. To re-es­tab­lish Bri­tish lead­er­ship (af­ter Saatchi & Saatchi) in an in­dus­try that was so US-cen­tric was very mo­ti­vat­ing and sat­is­fy­ing, both to me and my col­leagues.

Third, build­ing WPP by wel­com­ing JWT, Ogilvy, Y&R, Grey, 24/7 Real Me­dia and TNS, among oth­ers; by cre­at­ing Group M, in­clud­ing Xaxis and Essence; by em­pha­sis­ing well be­fore oth­ers the im­por­tance of Asia-Pa­cific, Latin Amer­ica, Africa, the Mid­dle East and Cen­tral and East­ern Europe, and of dig­i­tal ca­pa­bil­i­ties along with a global client and coun­try-cen­tred ap­proach; by win­ning year af­ter year the world’s best creative and ef­fec­tive­ness hold­ing com­pany awards; by pi­o­neer­ing the At­ti­cus Awards for orig­i­nal writ­ten think­ing and WPP Fel­low­ship Awards for young tal­ent, along with Part­ner­ship Awards for in­te­grated mar­ket­ing client suc­cesses; by orig­i­nat­ing Stream dig­i­tal con­fer­ences and An­nual Sus­tain­abil­ity and Pro Bono Re­ports, cul­mi­nat­ing in the big six join­ing forces to pro­mote the UN sec­re­tary-gen­eral’s De­vel­op­ment Goals; and, most im­por­tantly, pro­vid­ing a liveli­hood di­rectly or in­di­rectly for 200,000 peo­ple and their 500,000 or so de­pen­dents.

And lastly, when in Septem­ber 2018 Der­ris­ton (to be re­named S4 Cap­i­tal) was relisted on the Lon­don Stock Ex­change – the start of a new jour­ney ex­plor­ing dig­i­tal con­tent, first-party data and dig­i­tal me­dia plan­ning and buy­ing; the start of my third jour­ney in our in­dus­try over the past 40 years or so, about 10 years less than Cam­paign. Happy half-cen­te­nary!

It could be throw­ing the first pitch at a San Fran­cisco Gi­ants game in 2000, just be­fore see­ing War­ren Hell­man of Hell­man & Fried­man to agree terms for the merger with Young & Ru­bi­cam fol­low­ing a break­down in ne­go­ti­a­tions.

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