The Italian Job - WPP Chairman Soothes Investors

16 February 2006

Investor concern at the events engulfing WPP Italia have caused WPP Group's usually low-profile chairman Philip Lader to raise his head above the parapet.

According to a report in The Times of London, Lader - whose role at WPP is non-executive - has personally assured stockholders that the group is "taking every step to ensure a thorough investigation".

The subject of the probe is sacked country manager Marco Benatti. Also reportedly under investigation is WPP Italia's chairman Giovanni Bossi [WAMN: 08-Feb-06].

The probe, conducted for WPP by US forensic accounting specialist Kroll, has allegedly uncovered 'irregular' payments to at least six clients and some media owners.

Also under investigation is a flat in Milan, for which WPP pays £50,000 a year, even though company employees were not allowed to use it.

WPP is suing Benatti for breaching his consultancy agreement over the Mediaclub earn-out, and seeks damages of more than £150,000 ($260.1k; €218.7k). Benatti is countersuing WPP and - and, he threatens, Sir Martin Sorrell personally - for unspecified damages.

Meantime Lader, making the most of his unaccustomed place in the spotlight, also used The Times interview to assuage investors' oft-expressed concerns about Sorrell's dominance of WPP and the apparent lack of a succession plan

"We have a rigorous succession process in which we review a wide variety of successors," Lader soothed. "The board has routinely given in-depth attention to potential successors for a number of positions at WPP, including that of the chief executive. The list always changes, but it is important the board is aware of potential successors."

Lader, a former US businessman and White House management fixer, later became the Clinton administration's ambassador to the UK. He is also the founder of a mysterious multinational organisation called the Renaissance Institute.

Seen by some as an 'economy class Davos', it purports to offer "family retreats for innovative leaders". Its most recent event in Charleston, South Carolina, claimed to have attracted 1,200 global "movers and shakers".

Data sourced from The Times Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff