Sir Martin Sorrell has an impressive if sometimes controversial business career. His robust defense of his 70% pay rise captures his leadership style
Harvard educated Sir Martin Sorrell has been a candidate for a LWD leadership post for some while. He appeared on the radar screen again, as I caught the end of a BBC interview in which he justifies his most recent earnings rise of 70% last year.
His broadcast performance was consistent with that of an earlier interview , suggesting a leader who was both tough and successful.
Sir Martin Sorrell is the chief executive of WPP, the company he founded in 1986, which is now the world’s largest group of advertising, marketing and communications companies. Widely regarded as one of the most important figures in his field, he recently joined Evan Davis on Radio 4’s business discussion programme The Bottom Line. He shared his vision about the future of advertising, the benefits of scale, why tough love means you sometimes have to bite the bullet and reduce your headcount, and how long the present financial crisis may last.
His 2009 predictions turned out to be rather refuted by events. However, that is largely true for other distinguished leaders in these turbulent times. There is an interesting parallel in his admiration of Rupert Murdoch with the comments made later by Tony Blair in his memoires. These endorsements of the tycoon’s achievements help us avoid the ‘hero to zero’ mentality which can be found in much of popular leadership narratives.
Furthermore, most pundits did not get close to anticipating the aftershocks of the credit crunch emerging in 2008.
Somebody like Rupert Murdoch understands that he’s not just in the TV business or the film business. He understands he’s in the communications business. Rather like Theodore Levitt used to talk about the buggy whip industry. They’re not in the horse and buggy industry. They’re in the transport industry. And when the railroads came in, they were threatened; but if you thought about it as being the transport industry, you won.
Rupert understands that. He’s in film, he’s in TV, he’s in outdoor sites in Russia. He’s spread his empire around the world.
“A recovery of sorts”
“The first half of 2009 will be very tough – I think the second half of 2009 will get relatively better. Relative to the first half.
And I think in 2010 we will get a recovery – what we called in a recent statement a recovery of sorts “.
Sir Martin’s career has been hugely successful and his success has been rewarded with honours and wealth. He takes risks and cuts his losses when they occur. In the interview he also talked about ‘tough love’ and the benefits of ‘letting people go’ however painful the decision. (Although he didn’t seem too pained, it seemed to me).
The Daily Mail, a popularist tabloid newspaper, was unconvinced about Sir Martin’s case. In an article hostile to his lifestyle The Mail noted:
My pay is very low, moans advertising tycoon with a basic salary of £1 MILLION a year
Sir Martin, 66, said his bumper income, which rose by 83 per cent to £4.2million last year, was fully justified and was mostly linked to the firm’s performance. He added that he considered his basic salary, of just over £1million, to be ‘very low’.
The juicy details
The article also replicated much that can be found on wikipedia on juicy details of his high-profile divorce which has arguably contributed to his celebrity profile, albeit for non-business matters.
To the website Short Person’s Support for the image of Sir Martin. The site also offers the following quotable quote:
Aunt Vorthys: “A nice young man … A pity he’s so short.”
Lady Ekaterin: “He’s not so short … He’s just concentrated”
[Lois McMaster Bujold, in Komarr]