WPP and Martin Sorrell clash over payout

WPP is reportedly refusing to pay founder and former CEO Martin Sorrell (pictured) share awards. The network said in its 2020 annual report that the 2016 and 2017 long-term incentive plan awards granted to Sorrell "will lapse as a result of [his] disclosure of confidential information belonging to WPP and certain of its clients to the media during his tenure as a WPP director".

WPP's spokesperson told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that given the disclosure by the former group chief executive of confidential information belonging to WPP and certain of its clients to the media during his tenure as a WPP director, the compensation committee acted wholly appropriately, taking account of all relevant considerations, in exercising the malus adjustments.

Meanwhile, Sorrell told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that this is just another case of "peanut envy", calling this a "petty move" over a relatively small number of shares three years after his departure. "It is a bit rich that they’re accusing me of leaks, given their own over the last three years. They’ve had to go back several years to try and find an excuse to deny me what’s mine. I’ve left it to my lawyers to deal with. It seems like blind rage is driving them, not peanut or even coconut envy," he added.

Sorrell stepped down as WPP's CEO in 2018 following an investigation into an allegation of personal misconduct against him, although he previously rejected the allegation. Shortly after, he made a comeback with S4 Capital which has since risen to prominence, bagging clients including Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Procter & Gamble, T-Mobile, Shopify, and Verizon. The agency also had "an outstandingly successful" 2020, as previously described by Sorrell, with billings increasing by 19.6% like-for-like to approximately US$894.15 million, according to its unaudited 2020 preliminary results. Its pro-forma billings jumped 22.3% to US$1.05 billion.

WPP was founded in 1985 by Sorrell when he took a controlling stake in a small UK manufacturer of wire baskets and teapots called Wire and Plastic Products, as the foundation on which to build an international advertising and marketing services group. It was later renamed WPP and grew rapidly over the next three decades, initially through large acquisitions and subsequently through organic growth alongside smaller-scale M&A.

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