John Steedman retires from WPP after 45 years at holding company

John Steedman is retiring as WPP’s executive director and chief operating officer, effective today, after considering his departure “for a while”.

Steedman has had an advertising career spanning more than 45 years at WPP, including four as a director and a year as the holding company’s chief operating officer, following Jens Monsees’ appointment as CEO.

Steedman said his decades at WPP – including stints at J Walter Thompson (now Wunderman Thompson), Mindshare, Group M, and the holding company itself – have “been an honour”, but the time is right to step back.

“Over this time, I have been greatly impressed by the calibre of talent and creativity of the people I work with and their energy to embrace change and growth,” he said.

“I have been through cycles of both positive tailwinds and tough downturns, and through each one, it is the fantastic clients and colleagues whom I have had the pleasure to work alongside, that has made this journey so rewarding and colourful.

“I have been considering retirement for a while, and now, having well and truly handed the reins over to Jens, is the right time. I wish the board and management all the very best in their future endeavours.”

Steedman’s career began with a five year stretch at McCann, before he started with J Walter Thompson in 1976. He spent more than 20 years at the agency, rising through the ranks to become regional media director.

In 1997, he stepped across to stablemate Mindshare, where he was chair and APAC CEO for the Group M media agency. After almost seven years in that position, he took up the same position for the entire media investment arm, acting as chair and APAC CEO for Group M for just shy of six years.

Less than a year after quitting that role, he returned to WPP as chair.

Steedman also acted as WPP’s interim chief executive from November 2018 to October 2019, between the departure of Mike Connaghan and the arrival of Monsees.

“With his deep experience, Steady has provided invaluable support and leadership as COO over the past year as we faced the very challenging external circumstances and successfully changed our workplaces to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Monsees said.

“I have been very grateful for his contribution as we have embarked on our transformation strategy which is now well underway, and he leaves with my thanks and best wishes for the future.”


WPP AUNZ’s chair, Robert Mactier, added that Steedman has made an “enormous contribution” to the company, and his “experience, advocacy and pragmatism will be greatly missed”.

“John is widely respected as an industry leader in the media buying sector and as a passionate advocate on important issues including diversity and inclusion, and R U OK? suicide prevention and he is a leading voice in seeking greater accountability in online media commentary,” Mactier said.

“John is much loved by all at WPP AUNZ and by many clients and respected leaders across the industry. We will miss his friendship and contribution, but we understand his desire to take a step back from the frontline.

“On behalf of all at WPP AUNZ, we wish John a very happy and well-deserved retirement.”

Last year, Steedman called on trade publications, including Mumbrella, to ban anonymous comments, which he dubbed the “coward punches” of public debate. Last month, following a restructure of the content team, Mumbrella removed comments.

Steedman was inducted into the Media Federation of Australia’s Hall of Fame in 2013.


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