WPP Group’s sparkling third quarter revenues [WAMN: 23-Oct-00] have done little to assuage the growing controversy surrounding the appointment of a replacement for retiring non-executive chairman Hamish Maxwell (72).

Widely reported as Sir Martin Sorrell’s preferred candidate, Sir Christopher Lewinton has recently encountered a barrage of criticism - from WPP shareholders and analysts alike - concerning his performance in a mirror role at multinational industrial giant TI Group. He was slammed for his excessively large pay package at a time when TI's share price had plummeted.

Apparently dumping ballast to prevent WPP’s balloon from losing altitude, Sir Martin now says that the group has neither “ruled in nor ruled out” Lewinton as a candidate. “The board will decide on a new chairman in the next few months," Sorrell hedged.

During the prolonged negotiations leading up to WPP's purchase of Young & Rubicam this summer, Sir Martin undertook to offer the WPP chair to a Y&R board member and four Y&R representatives, including Sir Christopher, subsequently joined the WPP board.

Sir Martin is believed to have discussed the chairman’s role with each of them but Sir Christopher was initially deemed the most appropriate as he is UK-based and well known in financial circles.

News sources: The Times (London) / Wall Street Journal