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Goliath of advertising

10-September-2005
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Goliath of advertising

Trust Suhel Seth, the CEO of advertising agency Equus Red Cell, to come up with catch words even when talking about the man who owns Equus, WPP boss Martin Sorrell. “Martin is a man who believes not in globalisation but gobbelisation. He gobbles up companies,” says Seth.

Even discounting for the usual Seth hyporbole, the remark is spot on.

Starting out as the owner of Wire & Plastic Products, Sorrell has built up a $36 billion empire large through acquisitions, the latest addition to it being the acquisition in India of Enterprise Nexus by WPP group company Bates. Unsatiated, Sorrell, who already controls about half of India’s advertising business - about $150 billion - through a clutch of companies, he is said to be after Rediffusion DY&R.

Sorrell’s background makes him as incongruous in the world of advertising as his company’s name. The man is a chartered accountant by training. That, however, is also looked upon as his big strength. According to advertising old timers, Sorrell, when he first came into advertising, could not believe that the industry, with so much money riding on it, was completely disorganised with little regard for efficiency.

He changed all that and set new benchmarks, probably the first of their kind, for efficiency in advertising.

As a measure of where he has come, Sorrell received £17 m in 2004, including proceeds from share-based long-term incentive plans of £14.6m. Still, most shareholders seem to believe that Martin is good value for the amounts paid to him. His pay is roughly in line with the only other executive who heads a marketing services company of similar size - John Wren, chairman and chief executive of Omnicom.

The focus on India is understandable. The country is projected to account for 3 per cent of WPP’s total turnover in five years. In fact, WPP’s performance in Asia and Central and Eastern Europe is in sharp contrast to its lacklustre one in the UK.

“If you go back to 1825, China and India accounted for the same share of global gross national product as they are predicted to do in 2025. It’s back to the future,” he had said recently.

At a breakfast meeting with journalists this week in New Delhi, Sorrell is reported to have said: “My blackberry works here, my mobile works here and believe me, entering a cafe and getting the menu on the mobile is not too far away either.”

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