Sir Martin Sorrell Talks about Building the World's Largest Advertising and Media Company
Twenty-six years ago, Sir Martin Sorrell had already built a successful career. He was a top official at the global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, driving many of the acquisitions that helped propel the firm to the top of the industry. But, as he told an audience at Yale SOM on February 21, "I wanted to run my own business."
He saw an opportunity in Wire and Plastic Products, a small British company that was enticing mainly for being listed on the English stock market. In 1985, he bought a controlling stake and proceeded to create the world's largest advertising and marketing services group, now called WPP. "The business is very tough, very challenging, but also very interesting," he said. "We are involved one way or another in the major changes happening in the world."
Sorrell spoke as part of the Leaders Forum lecture series at Yale SOM. He explained how he took a company that made wire shopping baskets and built it into a business with $16 billion in revenue, 153,000 employees, and operations in 109 countries. Soon after acquiring his stake in Wire and Plastic Products, Sorrell began buying ad agencies, eventually accumulating some of the best-known names in the communications industry: J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy & Mather, Young & Rubicam.
Sorrell broke down business leaders into two types: the founder and the manager. "People who start things are not good at running things, and people who run things are not good at starting them," he said. "I'm trying to do both—and it's not easy. I'm trying to build relationships on the local level in 109 countries with the multinationals of the future."