THE MT INTERVIEW: Sir Martin Sorrell

Management Today, June 9, 2003 | Go to article overview

THE MT INTERVIEW: Sir Martin Sorrell


You'd expect the enduring head of WPP, the world's biggest communication services agency, to influence his peers. But he has far more clout than that - he's listened to as an oracle at Davos. So where are we headed, Sir Martin? When will the gloom lift?

If the FTSE-100 index ever decides to appoint a Father of the House figure, in the same way the House of Commons does - an award for its longest-serving boss - the first candidate for the post would be Sir Martin Sorrell, founder and chief executive of the advertising and marketing services giant WPP.

Sorrell has been running the company since he started it in 1986, and in the years since WPP entered the FTSE in 1994, most rivals in the long-distance managing sweepstakes have fallen by the wayside.

Sir Stanley Kalms, who used to rule the Dixons high street empire from the office next door to WPP's headquarters in Mayfair's Farm Street? Gone. Lord Sterling, who was running P&O before many of the firm's silvertopped cruise customers retired, has announced he is stepping down.

Even Sir Geoff Mulcahy, Kingfisher's evergreen boss, finally stepped down earlier this year.

Of all the captains of industry who were players in the 1980s, Sorrell is virtually the only one left in the game.

True, he hit the top younger than most. Seventeen years since he took control of WPP, he is still only 58 and, with a full head of black hair, he could pass for younger. And he built his own empire - founders are always hard to get rid of: it takes a crisis to dislodge them, and Sorrell survived his.

But it is also because he is smarter than most of his peers.

If ever proof were required that brains will go further in business than any other single quality, then Sorrell would be Exhibit A.

Sorrell himself is not averse to occasional moments of sentimentality about the length of his journey. 'It's just amazing, when you think back to the little Wire & Plastic Products office in Folkestone,' he says.

'I mean, we started this business from nothing 17 years ago, and now we have relationships with some of the largest companies in the world. And we can talk to the key people in these companies - that is extraordinary to me.'

Certainly, among his many followers in the City, his sheer durability has won him a respect that flips between the awe-inspired and the grudging.

'The man has kept at it,' says Lorna Tilbian, media analyst at Numis Securities. 'He is incredibly focused and incredibly dedicated. He keeps working at a phenomenal rate. I mean, if you send him an e-mail, you always get a reply within five minutes. Not many people can keep that up year after year.'

But his longevity itself poses questions. What point in his career has Sorrell reached? What mountains are there left to climb? And what state will WPP be in when he finally departs?

A conversation with Sir Martin verges on the professorial. He treats journalists - and very probably staff, analysts, bankers and clients - much as a university tutor might treat a promising yet sometimes dim student.

He listens to questions politely, engages in some debate, then explains at length why he is right and why everyone else is wrong. Along the way he references every point with some theory, a couple of anecdotes, and drops in a liberal quantity of names to illustrate every turn in his argument.

'He has balls of titanium,' says one banker who has worked with him for many years. 'He came back from being virtually dead in 1991, and not many people have done that. And he has re-invented himself, going from being an entrepreneur to this corporate mega-manager. Not many people have done that either.'

So, I wonder, what point in its evolution has WPP now reached? And where has he got to in his own career?

Sir Martin swivels in his chair, glances out of the window, thinks for a moment, then starts to explain. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

THE MT INTERVIEW: Sir Martin Sorrell
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.