De­fi­ance OF THE £450m ty­coon 450m ty­coon

A friend of the Roy­als, he was Bri­tain’s best-paid boss – until ac­cused of us­ing com­pany money to pay a pros­ti­tute. Now Sir Mar­tin Sor­rell gives his first ma­jor in­ter­view since his down­fall. So is he hum­bled? Hu­mil­i­ated? Not one bit!

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - News - By WIL­LIAM TURVILL

THAT’S not a ques­tion I’m go­ing to an­swer one way or the other.’ Sir Mar­tin Sor­rell – a bea­con of Bri­tish busi­ness, the grand­est of City grandees, a man who has been knighted by the Queen – has just been asked whether he’s ever vis­ited a pros­ti­tute. And the ten­sion in his board­room in the heart of May­fair is al­most suf­fo­cat­ing. How does it feel to be asked such a ques­tion? ‘We can move on.’ Is it hu­mil­i­at­ing? ‘Move on.’ Has he been treated un­fairly? ‘Move on. Move on.’

Eight months ago, this for­mi­da­ble 73-year-old – the epit­ome of one of nov­el­ist Tom Wolfe’s Mas­ters of the Uni­verse – had it all. He was the boss of WPP, a world-famous ad­ver­tis­ing firm he had built up from scratch into one of Bri­tain’s big­gest and most ad­mired busi­nesses. He had of­fices in all cor­ners of the globe, with a work­force of 130,000. And he was a hero of Bri­tish en­trepreneur­ship, his views on the econ­omy and mar­kets sought af­ter by in­vestors and com­men­ta­tors world­wide.

How times change. To­day, Sir Mar­tin has left WPP, a com­pany he led for 33 years and came to see as his own ‘baby’, and is now the boss of a com­par­a­tive min­now, S4 Cap­i­tal, with only a few employees at his beck and call.

And be­cause none of them is work­ing on a win­try Fri­day evening, it has been left to him – a man who has amassed per­sonal wealth of £450 mil­lion and was a guest at Harry and Meghan’s wed­ding – to an­swer S4 Cap­i­tal’s door­bell, trudge down to the en­trance of his town­house of­fice and es­cort his in­ter­viewer up to the firm’s one­floor head­quar­ters in a tiny, jud­der­ing old lift.

So how has he ended up act­ing the bell-boy and fac­ing ques­tions about pay­ing for pros­ti­tutes on com­pany ex­penses?

Sir Mar­tin traces his Shake­spearean change in for­tune back to Thurs­day, March 29, this year. He was look­ing for­ward to a fam­ily hol­i­day on the con­ti­nent for the long Easter week­end. But be­fore jet­ting off he had been asked to at­tend an in­ter­view in WPP’s Lon­don head­quar­ters. The in­ter­view was con­ducted by WPP’s lawyers, the US firm WilmerHale.

The tone of the in­ter­view had not been at all what he was ex­pect­ing. He dis­cov­ered he faced a ma­jor in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­leged mis­use of com­pany money and im­proper be­hav­iour.

A few days later the al­le­ga­tions ap­peared in the US press. Sir Mar­tin says it was then, late on a Tues­day evening while he was still abroad and be­fore Bri­tish news­pa­pers picked up the story, that he de­cided to quit WPP. His res­ig­na­tion was for­malised less than a fort­night later, late on a Satur­day evening, fol­low­ing the con­clu­sion of the mys­te­ri­ous probe.

With lit­tle in­for­ma­tion re­vealed by WPP – the al­le­ga­tions re­mained se­cret thanks to a non-dis­clo­sure agree­ment – the City ru­mour mill im­me­di­ately went into over­drive.

Re­ports sur­faced that Sir Mar­tin had paid for a pros­ti­tute on com­pany ex­penses. Sor­rell has stren­u­ously de­nied the claim but until now has main­tained a stony si­lence on how the or­deal has af­fected him.

To­day, in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with The Mail on Sun­day, Sir Mar­tin pays trib­ute to his wife, Cris­tiana, and his fam­ily for the sup­port they have given him over the past eight months and speaks of his ‘sad­ness’ at leav­ing WPP. And he also vows to be re­mem­bered for his en­tre­pre­neur­ial achieve­ments rather than the lurid al­le­ga­tions that have sul­lied his name.

Sor­rell’s new work­place is in a nar­row town­house on an ex­clu­sive street in the shadow of Buck­ing­ham Palace and, more im­por­tantly for this con­sum­mate deal-maker, a stone’s-throw from a string of high-qual­ity restau­rants where he break­fasts, lunches and has din­ner with con­tacts.

Af­ter Sir Mar­tin an­swers the door, we as­cend the build­ing in its nar­row lift, awk­wardly stand­ing face to ster­num. I’m re­minded of some of the nick­names this diminu­tive ty­coon – who claims to share Napoleon’s height, 5ft 6½in – has earned in the busi­ness world: Titch – ‘that was at school’, he says.

The 21st of June (or the Short­est Knight, ged­dit?) – ‘yeah, that’s a vari­ant of Titch’.

Mad Dwarf – ‘it’s a vari­ant of Titch as well’.

Odi­ous Lit­tle Jerk – ‘it wasn’t Odi­ous Lit­tle Jerk – it was Odi­ous Lit­tle S***’.

As we take our seats in S4 Cap­i­tal’s board­room, Sor­rell must know that a bar­rage of un­wanted ques­tions are com­ing his way. But he makes clear he’s not go­ing to make my job easy. ‘There won’t be any tough ques­tions – I won’t an­swer any tough ques­tions,’ he says, fix­ing me with a steely glare.

Sir Mar­tin, smartly dressed as ever in a suit and tie, ini­tially sticks to his word, bat­ting it all off with the words ‘move on, move on’.

He main­tains a rigid pos­ture be­hind his vast board­room ta­ble, his hands clasped, re­in­forc­ing the message that noth­ing will break his re­solve.

But even­tu­ally he starts to soften. ‘It’s not been easy,’ he fi­nally ad­mits. ‘But I’ve had a lot of sup­port and coun­sel from all my fam­ily and friends – and peo­ple in­side WPP.’

His fam­ily in­clude sec­ond wife Cris­tiana, who is 30 years his ju­nior, and their two-yearold daugh­ter, Bianca.

From his first mar­riage he has three adult sons, all of whom work in the City, and grand­chil­dren. How did his fam­ily deal with the al­le­ga­tions, I ask. ‘We talked about it,’ he says. ‘But that’s a pri­vate mat­ter.’ Sor­rell rub­bishes any sug­ges­tion of mar­i­tal prob­lems. ‘That’s not a ques­tion I’m go­ing to dig­nify with an an­swer,’ he says, ad­ding: ‘Any­body who re­ally knows me, knows the al­le­ga­tion and sur­round­ing in­nu­endo were fab­ri­cated.’ But he does ad­mit that some peo­ple will be­lieve what’s been writ­ten about him. ‘Some peo­ple look at it and be­lieve it, and some peo­ple don’t,’ he says. ‘I think you have to be philo­soph­i­cal about it.’ Sor­rell in­sists he has ex­pe­ri­enced ‘tougher mo­ments’ in his life. This

may be hard to be­lieve. But he has had a more colour­ful life than most of his peers in the busi­ness world.

Brought up as an only child (a brother died in child­birth) in a Jewish house­hold in North Lon­don, Sor­rell at­tended Cam­bridge and Har­vard uni­ver­si­ties be­fore en­ter­ing the world of com­merce.

He flew be­neath the radar in his early years, but rose to promi­nence af­ter be­ing made fi­nance boss of ad­ver­tis­ing firm Saatchi & Saatchi. As he helped build it into a global gi­ant, Sor­rell be­came known as the ‘third Saatchi’ brother, af­ter founders Mau­rice and Charles.

At 40, Sor­rell broke off on his own. He bought an ob­scure bas­ket maker called Wire And Plas­tic Prod­ucts, re­named it WPP Group and – against all odds – built it up into the largest ad­ver­tis­ing com­pany in the world, over­tak­ing Saatchi & Saatchi. To get there, Sor­rell bought up some of the best­known com­pa­nies in the ad­ver­tis­ing world, mak­ing plenty of en­e­mies along the way. His Odi­ous Lit­tle S*** nick­name came about when WPP bought Ogilvy Group. Its founder David Ogilvy, known as the Fa­ther of Ad­ver­tis­ing, be­stowed the ti­tle upon Sor­rell.

Sir Mar­tin points out that this com­ment was made be­fore the two had met, and that Ogilvy – whom he later made chair­man of WPP – later apol­o­gised.

Sir Mar­tin was knighted in 2000 – when he earned his 21st June nick­name from jeal­ous in­dus­try peers – for his in­cred­i­ble rise in the busi­ness world. But all was not well in his per­sonal life.

In 2005, his mar­riage of 33 years to San­dra, mother to his three sons, broke down and ended in a pub­lic divorce court. He was or­dered to pay her a record £29mil­lion, which in­cluded their £3.25mil­lion Ge­or­gian town­house in Cen­tral Lon­don.

Sor­rell was back in court two years later. This time, he was su­ing two for­mer col­leagues who al­legedly posted anony­mous mes­sages on­line about a short-lived re­la­tion­ship he had with WPP’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer in Italy at that time.

One message was said to have de­scribed Sir Mar­tin and the woman as ‘the mad dwarf and the nympho schizo’.

The case was set­tled out of court for a re­ported £120,000 but, con­tro­ver­sially, WPP share­hold­ers were left to pick up le­gal fees he had ac­crued up to that point to­talling £800,000.

Sir Mar­tin mar­ried his sec­ond wife Cris­tiana, an Ital­ian econ­o­mist, in 2008. He pro­voked rage among WPP in­vestors a cou­ple of years later when it emerged that the com­pany was pay­ing for her travel ex­penses.

The con­tro­versy led to one of many run-ins be­tween WPP’s chief ex­ec­u­tive and his share­hold­ers.

‘My wife has made and con­tin­ues to make a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to what I do,’ Sor­rell ar­gues. ‘What she does is ex­tremely sig­nif­i­cant.’ He later agreed to start pay­ing her ex­penses per­son­ally.

Sir Mar­tin has reg­u­larly been the FTSE 100’s best-paid chief ex­ec­u­tive, tak­ing home more than £200 mil­lion be­tween 2012 and 2016 alone. Sor­rell says he has no re­grets. He points out that a large amount of his pay was ac­tu­ally in bonus form, mean­ing it was de­pen­dent on his per­for­mance. He also says con­trasts be­tween him­self, a man who in­vested in his own com­pany and built it up from scratch, and those brought in to man­age big busi­nesses, are not fair.

‘I was to­tally committed to the en­ter­prise,’ he says. ‘I fun­da­men­tally be­lieve that peo­ple in com­pa­nies like WPP should make an in­vest­ment, which I did.’

De­spite an­i­mos­ity be­tween him­self and the board, af­ter re­sign­ing from WPP on April 14 this year, Sor­rell car­ried on work­ing for the firm for a month and even se­cured some sig­nif­i­cant busi­ness.

‘Things had to be han­dled,’ he says. ‘You can’t just cut it off just like that. There were con­trac­tual ne­go­ti­a­tions go­ing on with clients. I was in­volved in ne­go­ti­at­ing a ma­jor [ad­ver­tis­ing] con­tract.

‘The client said that the only per­son he was pre­pared to deal with in re­la­tion to the re­newal was my­self… that was one of the last things I did for WPP.’

Sor­rell, no­tably re­laxed now the con­ver­sa­tion has moved on from pros­ti­tu­tion, also grasps this op­por­tu­nity to ex­plain why he is both a good founder and a good man­ager. ‘There are peo­ple who are good at start­ing busi­nesses, and there are peo­ple who are good at run­ning busi­nesses,’ he says.

‘Rarely do you find both sets of tal­ent in one per­son.’

Yet around the time of the pros­ti­tu­tion al­le­ga­tion, Sir Mar­tin also faced ac­cu­sa­tions that he had been a ‘bru­tal and in­hu­man’ boss. How does he rec­on­cile that with his claim he’s good at run­ning busi- nesses? ‘I’ve said be­fore, I al­ways like to have things done well,’ he shoots back. ‘If at any point they weren’t done well, I was con­cerned about that. But if things were ex­e­cuted well, ev­ery­thing was fine.’

It was also re­ported that staff had been upset when he sacked his chauf­feur of 15 years af­ter he re­fused to pick up Cris­tiana from a restau­rant at 2am be­cause he had an­other job five hours later.

De­spite still own­ing a neartwo per cent stake in WPP, Sir Mar­tin has turned into the firm’s most vo­cal critic since leav­ing: he re­cently de­scribed it as be­ing a ‘car crash in slow mo­tion’.

Sir Mar­tin turns 74 in Fe­bru­ary, he has a young daugh­ter and grand­chil­dren nearby, and money is no concern for him and his fam­ily. But af­ter leav­ing WPP, he chose to launch him­self straight into a new job with­out tak­ing a break.

‘Hav­ing gone through what I went through, I de­cided in May to em­bark on a new en­ter­prise,’ he says. ‘A clean sheet of pa­per. It’s ob­vi­ously not easy – be­cause the good news is you have a clean sheet of pa­per, the bad news is that I ob­vi­ously miss the scale of WPP.

‘But we’re start­ing to build a good op­er­a­tion… and I think it can ac­tu­ally be re­ally ex­cit­ing. I can’t say how far we’ll go or what we’ll do [but] I’m find­ing it very in­ter­est­ing and ab­sorb­ing and chal­leng­ing. There are lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties, so we’ll see how it goes.’

Sor­rell says it would be ‘fool­ish’ to spec­u­late on how large S4 Cap­i­tal can be­come. But in sug­gest­ing it could one day catch up with WPP, a firm worth £11 bil­lion, he pro­vides a clue to his own am­bi­tions.

He refers to S4 as a ‘speck’ in the rear view mir­ror of the ‘car crash’ WPP. ‘If you’re in a car crash, and you stop, the speck catches up quite quickly,’ he chor­tles.

Whether it’s fea­si­ble or un­think­able, there is no doubt Sir Mar­tin would love to wit­ness the demise of his com­pany and then sweep in to its res­cue. He feels great ‘sad­ness’ at hav­ing left the firm and re­veals he has very per­sonal feel­ings to­wards it. ‘WPP is a great com­pany and it was, and still is, my baby,’ he says. ‘That’s founder’s men­tal­ity. It’s as near as a man can come to hav­ing a baby. Not phys­i­cally, but emo­tion­ally.’

No mat­ter what hap­pens, Sir Mar­tin is con­fi­dent he will be re­mem­bered for the right rea­sons, rather than for a cou­ple of months in 2018.

‘I’ve had three lives,’ he says. ‘Nine years at Saatchi, 33 years at WPP and, hope­fully, five to ten years at S4 Cap­i­tal. The records have, and will, speak for them­selves.’

Some peo­ple are good at start­ing busi­nesses, some are good at run­ning them… rarely do you find both sets of tal­ent in one per­son I’m re­minded of his nick­names… Mad Dwarf and Odi­ous Lit­tle S***

THE chaos con­tin­ues. There is the Brexit vote in the Com­mons on Tues­day and more about that in a mo­ment. But there have also been the vi­cious movements in share prices around the world, which in the case of the UK have wiped out all the gains of the past two years. And not just in Bri­tain. The Face­book share price is back to its level in the spring of 2017 and the price of even the mighty Ap­ple is where it was in Jan­uary.

The trig­ger for these col­ly­wob­bles was the de­ten­tion of a woman in Canada.

That might seem bizarre, but Meng Wanzhou is Chi­nese com­mer­cial roy­alty. She is the daugh­ter and po­ten­tial suc­ces­sor of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei. She is also chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer of Huawei, the sec­ond largest man­u­fac­turer of com­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment in the world.

So her de­ten­tion and re­quest for ex­tra­di­tion to the United States, re­port­edly on Huawei’s ex­ports to Iran, was a red rag. Sud­denly, the idea of a lull in the trade war be­tween the two coun­tries evap­o­rated.

So we have three el­e­ments to the chaos. There is political dis­rup­tion, cer­tainly in the UK but also else­where (look at France where the gov­ern­ment has been shaken by protests around the coun­try by cam­paign­ers in yellow jack­ets). There is fi­nan­cial mar­ket dis­rup­tion. And there is the grow­ing ev­i­dence of a trade war be­tween the world’s largest and sec­ond largest economies.

Lord King, Mervyn King, the for­mer gover­nor of the Bank of Eng­land, has likened the UK political sit­u­a­tion to that of the late-1930s and the 1970s, two ear­lier pe­ri­ods when the political es­tab­lish­ment lost con­trol. When one of the great economists of our gen­er­a­tion says some­thing like that, you sit up. But I think the analo­gies are un­help­ful.

Very few peo­ple alive now re­mem­ber the 1930s, but I do re­call my par­ents talk­ing about their sense of de­spair about the pol­icy of ap­pease­ment, and how they felt Cham­ber­lain’s Mu­nich ac­cord with Hitler would make war in­evitable.

But what­ever view you take of Europe’s ne­go­ti­at­ing tac­tics over Brexit (and I think they have be­haved both un­pleas­antly and stupidly), this is not Mu­nich.

Nor is this the 1970s, when I started work. That decade saw the break-up of the fixed exchange rate sys­tem; the oil price shocks; the se­condary bank­ing cri­sis; in­ter­est rates hit­ting 15 per cent; in­fla­tion touch­ing 25 per cent in 1975; the Gov­ern­ment bow­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund’s pro­gramme in 1976; and the decade end­ing in the ‘win­ter of dis­con­tent’ strikes – a level of chaos that led to the elec­tion of Mar­garet Thatcher’s Gov­ern­ment in 1979. If you think things are bumpy now, it is noth­ing like the mess we faced when we hit the job mar­ket in the 1970s.

Nor is the geopo­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion so frag­ile. The Meng Wanzhou de­ten­tion re­minds us that we are en­ter­ing into a pe­riod of trade ten­sion as the two gi­ants, the US and China, square up for a se­ries of eco­nomic fights. In about ten years’ time, China will pass the US to be­come the world’s largest econ­omy, but the US will re­main the dom­i­nant power. This is not a recipe for har­mony.

But a trade war is only a trade war. The Cold War was much more dan­ger­ous. The mem­ory of the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis of 1962 lin­gered on into the 1970s. The US and the Soviet Union were so alarmed by what might have hap­pened, that they agreed the first arms re­duc­tion treaty, SALT 1, in 1972. But a more com­pre­hen­sive treaty was not reached until 1991. Now see Brexit in this con­text.

You may think that the more ex­treme sce­nar­ios in the event of a no-deal Brexit painted by Lord King’s suc­ces­sor, Mark Car­ney, are ab­surdly neg­a­tive. You may agree with Lord King that it would in­deed be mad­ness to ‘align the coun­try in­def­i­nitely with laws over which it has no in­flu­ence’.

But when, as we re­port on Page 12, you get a sub­stan­tial ma­jor­ity of UK busi­nesses sup­port­ing the com­pro­mise that has been ne­go­ti­ated, then we should take that se­ri­ously. This is only the exit deal. Fu­ture trade re­la­tions will evolve, and al­most cer­tainly away from Europe be­cause the rest of the world will grow faster.

But this week­end, politi­cians should care to lis­ten to the peo­ple who are still driv­ing the econ­omy for­ward – and re­spect their views.

Take it se­ri­ously when a ma­jor­ity of UK firms sup­port a com­pro­mise

FIGHT­ING ON: Sir Mar­tin dur­ing the in­ter­view. Left: With wife Cris­tiana

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