Ad titan Sorrell quits amid misconduct claims

Chief executive officer of WPP Sir Martin Sorrell is stepping aside after 33 years with the firm

The question now for his successor, WPP's investors and its tens of thousands of clients is whether the £15bn group can survive the departure of its founder and the dramatic changes the internet is bringing to the traditional world of advertising.

Sorrell had been in the midst of an unspecified investigation about "personal misconduct and misuse of company assets". These are methods his successor can not hope to be allowed to employ.

With WPP operating in more than countries, Sir Martin has cultivated a global reputation as a commentator on economic and political matters, forging relationships with government ministers, financiers and corporate bosses around the world.

Sky News has learnt that WPP, which owns a string of worldwide advertising and media buying networks supplying numerous world's biggest companies, is preparing to announce Sir Martin's departure as soon as Saturday night.

"Finding someone who is a charisma machine with chief executives in the same way Martin is will be tough", said Claire Enders, the founder of Enders Analysis.

The company said Sir Martin will be treated as having retired, with chairman Roberto Quarta becoming executive chairman until a new chief executive has been appointed. "He was renowned for his financial acumen, but his PR skills were probably even stronger". (He is renowned for holding conversations while texting with clients and friends.) Today, WPP can be a worldwide advertisements behemoth with 130,000 workers in 112 countries, and a industry valuation of approximately 2-2 billion pounds, or about £ 31 billion.

WPP said the investigation, which regarded financial impropriety, had concluded.

In an email to WPP staff on Saturday night seen by Sky News, Sir Martin said it was "in the interest of our clients...and all our other stakeholders...for me to step aside". Sorrell rejected the allegations and said his commitment to the company which he founded 30 years ago, remains absolute. Sir Martin would of course assist with the transition. "Good fortune and Godspeed to all of you". He earned about 200 million pounds ($284 million) over the last five years, largely due to a lucrative performance-related bonus package.

The ad giant has been under pressure since it was forced to admit this month that it had launched... New-York based Omnicom Group Inc., another WPP competitor, recently consolidated the CEO and chairman role in John Wren, who has led the company for two decades.

"Mark and Andrew are both highly accomplished and experienced executives who have the board's complete confidence", Quarta said in an emailed note to employees, a copy of which was seen by Bloomberg.

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