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WPP’s Australian bosses should worry about their own performance, says Sorrell

WPP founder Sir Martin Sorrell has swung back at a suggestion from two of his most senior former Australian executives that he is guilty of hypocrisy in attacking the running of the organisation since he departed.

Speaking to an industry podcast, John Steedman, acting CEO of WPP Australia, said Sorrell needs to “get over” his ousting. And Greg Graham, who was group marketing director of WPP locally until earlier this year, accused Sorrell of hypocrisy for attacking the company he built.

But Sorrell told Mumbrella that Steedman should instead focus on the running of the ASX-listed WPP AUNZ.

Sir Martin left WPP in April last year after an acrimonious investigation into what was described as “personal misconduct”

Speaking to the B&T podcast in an episode uploaded on Friday, Steedman and Graham were asked about comments made by Sorrell at last month’s Cannes Lions event suggesting WPP had failed to evolve as fast as some of its competitors.

Sorrell: Steedman needs to focus on WPP’s performance in Australia

Both Steedman and Graham argued that it was time for Sorrell to stop talking about the company he founded in 1985, turning it into the world’s biggest communications holding company.

Agency brands owned by WPP include the Group M media agencies of Mediacom, Wavemaker and Mindshare; ad agencies Ogilvy, VMLY&R, Wunderman Thomson and WhiteGrey and PR agencies Howorth, OPR, PPR and Hill + Knowlton.

Steedman said: “I think Martin needs to move on, simply put. Times have changed, so has the model. We’re moving on; Martin needs to move on.”

Steedman: Sorrell needs to move on

“I love Martin. Great guy. But, you know…”

Sorrell now runs S4 Capital as the base of a new holding company and competitor to WPP.

And Graham, who now runs pitch consultancy The Nest, added: “I think it’s a bit hypocritical. I really do. He built the business, now he criticises it. It’s a bit glass houses, buddy.”

Graham: Sorrell is hypocritical

Steedman took the helm of WPP’s Australian operation in October after the departure of CEO Mike Connaghan.

Since then, the company’s share price has declined by as much as 44%. Last month the share price of WPP AUNZ hit the lowest point in its history when it dropped to 48c.

Sorrell told Mumbrella: “Think they should focus on the performance of WPP AUNZ.”

The company currently has a market capitalisation of just under $500m.

WPP’s local share price has not recovered from Connaghan’s October 23 departure | Source: Google Finance

Over the last two years, WPP has been going through a series of agency mergers locally and globally as it attempts to simplify its structure.

In May 2017, The White Agency and Grey Group Australia merged to form WhiteGrey. And in June 2017, WPP said it would be merging MEC and Maxus to create Wavemaker.

In September last year, WPP merged Y&R and VML to form VMLY&R. And in November last year, JWT and Wunderman merged to create Wunderman Thomson.

On Friday, WPP said it was selling a majority stake in its research company Kantar to Bain Capital.

WPP AUNZ’s new boss Jens Monsees does not start in the role until October. Monsees will be on a salary package of up to $5.5m a year if he hits all of his targets, along with a signing on bonus of $1.5m to make up for payments he will miss out on at his previous employer.

Monsees: Sorrell will be watching WPP’s new $5m man

Monsees’ appointment raised eyebrows because he has no agency experience and has never worked in the Australian market. His previous roles have been with Google and BMW in Germany.

Sorrell told Mumbrella: “I’m interested to see how their latest recruit performs.”

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