Sir Martin Sorrell, executive chairman of S4 Capital, has suggested that a post-Brexit, tax-light and regulation-light UK should be a natural home for the likes of Google.

Speaking at DMEXCO, a relaxed and casually attired Sorrell offered his views on global trade, took a swipe at WPP and elaborated on the role of company structure in the process of digital transformation as well as revisiting some familiar themes.

China-US relations are the biggest issue facing the world, he said, but he fully expects that a trade deal will be sorted out before the next presidential election.

On Brexit, he argued, deploying the sort of military analogy that hasn’t generally enlightened the debate, that the UK “has to become an agile motor torpedo board against the aircraft carriers, it has to become much more responsive.

And, he added, “the irony of the point is it should become the home of Google and Facebook and Amazon”.

Of his old employer, he noted that its market capitalisation had fallen by almost $4bn since his departure and dismissed the current chairman as someone who “knows nothing about the business”.

But he acknowledged that it is difficult for what must now be regarded as a legacy business to make the necessary changes, and he fingered company structure as a particular hurdle.

“There is a separation between ownership and control,” he said, pointing out that the current WPP board has little or no share ownership, “so they take a managerial approach to the business”. And given the short average tenure of CEOs and CMOs, they think in short-term cycles not the long term.

It’s a problem that bedevils many legacy businesses, he added, and that makes it harder to implement changes around digital transformation; he anticipates that Kantar, which WPP sold to Bain & Co, will be able to make the necessary changes under private ownership and argued that Axel Springer went private recently because it was too difficult to carry out the change to digital in the public arena.

S4 Capital, his new venture, faces no such restrictions, starting with a clean sheet and being purely focused on digital. Sorrell contrasted the growth rates of traditional and digital media and opined that “we’re pushing on an open door”.

And while the business may lack the scale of WPP, he has global ambitions, flagging up an imminent presence in Germany, Spain and South Korea. “We will have a good spread in the US, Latin America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and Asia Pacific. I think that will be sufficient.”

Sorrell is 74 now but shows no signs of slowing down. Asked when he would stop working, he replied that he’d carry on until he drops.

Sourced from WARC