Ad giant WPP picks Mark Read as new CEO
WPP PLC has chosen Mark Read as its new chief executive, according to a person familiar with the matter, placing a company veteran at the helm of the world’s largest ad firm following the departure of founder Martin Sorrell.
WPP is expected to announce the appointment early this week after the details of Mr. Read’s contract have been finalized, the person said, capping a monthslong search for a successor to Mr. Sorrell, 73, who resigned in April.
Mr. Read inherits a globe-spanning colossus that has struggled in an industry now defined by the dominance of Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google in digital advertising. Mr. Sorrell built WPP over three decades of acquisitions, but the scale that once allowed the company to thrive has lately made it a sluggish competitor.
WPP is under pressure from investors and big clients — such as Ford Motor Co., and Unilever PLC — to make the process of buying, creating and measuring the effectiveness of ads more transparent and simple. That means Mr. Read needs to consolidate the firm’s disparate services, from data science to the creation of TV ads, into more of a one-stop-shop for advertisers.
Mr. Read declined to comment.
Mr. Read’s co-workers describe him as a study in contrasts with Mr. Sorrell, a well-known micromanager who was long considered an oracle for his willingness to make pronouncements on the direction of the world economy.
Mr. Read, co-workers say, is soft-spoken introvert who gives his staff autonomy, often telling them to "just get on with it."
"People underestimate Mark because he’s not loud and brash," said Shane Atchison, Chief Marketing Officer of data-analytics company Domo Inc. and a former WPP executive. "He simplifies things rather than making them more complex."
Mr. Read shot to prominence in April when he was named co-chief operating officer of WPP, taking over the firm’s day-to-day operations after Mr. Sorrell resigned. He has since been reviewing WPP’s businesses, asking executives what works and what doesn’t.
Colleagues say Mr. Read is exacting. A wine connoisseur, Mr. Read is known for bringing his own bottle to social events in case the wine being served isn’t up to scratch, they say.
In June, Mr. Read told the Journal the company would be evaluating WPP’s ownership of some assets but ruled out a major breakup. He said the company’s portfolio of more than 400 companies — many of them rivals — now needed to "work together, not to work apart."
WPP executives say they are eager to see a shift in power away from the head office in London. Some felt decisions were delayed by a need to go through Mr. Sorrell for what they considered relatively mundane requests.
Mr. Read, 51, was born in London. His father was an entrepreneur and his mother an orthodontist.
In 1989, he joined WPP straight out of college after writing to Mr. Sorrell to ask for a job. He later worked at consulting firm Booz Allen & Hamilton before founding WebRewards, a startup specializing in online loyalty programs that was sold to Bertelsmann in 2001.
After working on WPP’s digital development for more than a decade, he was named CEO of Wunderman in 2015, one of WPP’s largest agencies. There he consolidated Wunderman offices that were scattered across the globe. He also broadened Wunderman’s business, which was focused on direct marketing, to include consulting, business transformation and e-commerce, changing the agency’s pay structure to incentivize different parts of Wunderman to work together.
Mr. Read "quickly unified us with a vision, a purpose and a culture," said Mel Edwards who runs the agency’s Europe operations.
Stephan Pretorius, chief technology officer at Wunderman, said Mr. Read fosters loyalty by empowering his staff.
Shortly after WPP bought Mr. Pretorius’s company, Mr. Pretorius said, Mr. Read asked him to present to the board of a large media company on the future of digital publishing. Mr. Pretorius protested that he had never presented at that level, but Mr. Read told him to go ahead.
"He pushes people to achieve more than they think they can achieve," Mr. Pretorius said.
Write to Nick Kostov at [email protected]
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