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Martin Sorrell Steps Down As CEO Of World's Largest Ad Company

Martin Sorrell, the longtime CEO of WPP, attends a summit in June 2016, in London. He has stepped down after an investigation into alleged misconduct.
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Martin Sorrell, the longtime CEO of WPP, attends a summit in June 2016, in London. He has stepped down after an investigation into alleged misconduct.

Martin Sorrell, the powerful CEO who turned WPP into the world's largest advertising and PR firm, has resigned after allegations of misconduct.

The misconduct reportedly involved misuse of company funds — though not at a level "material" to the massive organization — as well as "personal misconduct."

WPP has completed its investigation into the allegations, but has not released any public details about what the allegations were, or whether they were substantiated. Sorrell has denied that the allegations have merit.

Sorrell "will be treated as having retired," WPP says in a statement. The Guardian reports that Sorrell, 73, is due to receive in the neighborhood of £20 million ($28 million) as part of his exit.

As NPR previously reported:

"Sorrell is a giant in the global advertising industry, and one of Britain's most prominent businessmen. He's famously well-compensated, earning £210 million (nearly $300 million) over the course of 5 years in a controversial pay package that some shareholders resisted.

"Within the last year, he's come under pressure because of his company's performance — WPP has seen poorer-than-expected growth and slumping stocks.

"Sorrell, formerly the finance director at Saatchi & Saatchi, created WPP in the mid-'80s. He invested in a manufacturing company called Wire and Plastic Products Plc, took over as chief executive and converted the company into a marketing firm. Through acquisition after acquisition, the renamed WPP Group grew from a small operation into a behemoth.

"Today, it is the world's largest advertising company, and Sorrell has been called the world's 'most important advertising executive.' "

In a statement to employees at WPP — more than 200,000 of them — Sorrell described the company as a "family" and praised its growth over the last three decades.

He acknowledged the allegations of misconduct only obliquely.

"I see that the current disruption we are experiencing is simply putting too much unnecessary pressure on the business," he wrote. "That is why I have decided that in your interest, in the interest of our clients, in the interest of all shareowners, both big and small, and in the interest of all our other stakeholders, it is best for me to step aside."

"As a Founder, I can say that WPP is not just a matter of life or death, it was, is and will be more important than that," he wrote.

Sorrell, whose name has been inextricably bound with WPP's identity since he reinvented the company in the '80s, has never discussed stepping down from the firm before. But he says there is a succession plan in place.

Chairman Roberto Quarta is stepping in as executive chairman until a new CEO is appointed, WPP says. Mark Read and Andrew Scott, current WPP executives, will serve as joint chief operating officers.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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