'Where's the Sorrell Succession Plan,' Asks Ginger Group?

22 June 2005

Sir Martin Sorrell (60) is too busy making money for WPP Group shareholders, his colleagues and himself to worry over-much about who might succeed him when he collects his senior citizen's discount card or heeds the welcoming jingle from a heavenly choir.

Not so UK corporate governance watchdog RREV (Research, Recommendations and Electronic Voting) which, in partnership with US counterpart ISS, is demanding action from the WPP board on the issue of succession.

Although a day scarce passes without adland's favourite knight hitting the headlines, the WPP PR machine goes strangely silent when it comes to Life After Sorrell - an issue on which the great man himself appears remarkably sensitive.

When a shareholder had the temerity to raise this thorny question at an annual meeting a couple of years back, Advertising Age reported: "Sorrell gave the investor a withering look and curtly replied that WPP would deal with the situation in due course."

But shareholders at WPP's upcoming annual meeting next week - RREV especially - are less likely to be silenced by the knight's Medusa act. According to The Observer newspaper, the shareholder body will demand a clear statement on the process by which an understudywill be selected to take over WPP's leading role - and when.

RREV is also concerned at the paucity of truly independent directors on the WPP board, specifically naming two non-executive directors: chairman Philip Lader and Stanley (Bud) Morten.

The former also doubles as an advisor to WPP's investment bank Morgan Stanley; while Morten, a WPP director of fourteen years standing, is also an independent consultant to Citigroup/Smith Barney. Under WPP's articles, Morten (along with other directors) will stand for re-election next week and RREV advises investors to demonstrate their dissatisfaction by abstaining in the vote.

As Thomas Pained once observed of a different industry: "Monarchy and succession have laid the world in blood and ashes.

Data sourced from BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff