SIR MARTIN AND THE VACANT THRONE

The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.

Post On : 15-05-2018 | Tuesday

“The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.”

-          Chris Hedges

 
Sir Martin Sorrell changed the game. His presence on the stage was as lead actor in the era that was the beginning of the end for conventional advertising and perhaps the beginning for all things digital.

 

He was a very successful businessman and grew WPP to gargantuan, previously unimagined proportions. He is rightly credited for several things and much has been written about it over the past few days.

I salute his achievement.
 

However, one now focuses on something simple and yet stark. The utter lack of a ready succession. This, for a man 33 years at the helm of affairs. One whose king-sized annual compensation exceeded $100 million in a few of the recent years and drew howls from share-holders with a third of share-holders refusing to back it as recently as last year. He is said to have a net worth of over $700 million.

What was the Board and the executive management under Sir Martin doing to provide for a smooth, viable and effective succession plan for this highest paid CEO of an FTSE 100 company? Nothing?
 

If today a person is announced as successor CEO and takes three months to arrive and another six to settle down... Well, that’s a full year by the time he delivers his first quarter!
 

Leaders contemplate upon succession as death. Sir Martin seemed to believe in his immortality just as much as the possible incompetence of any ready successor from within. It is often the case with founder CEOs. No one is good enough to take care of what they have created.
 

The benchmark with which historians distinguish empires from kingdoms lies in the assessment of an emperor as being above a mere king in human qualities. Someone who doesn’t merely rule a flourishing kingdom but lays the foundation of an empire. One who builds systems which will outlast him. Perhaps not as dramatic as continuous acquisitions and riding in triumph through Roman arches, but possessing a temperament that demands depth, wisdom and understanding.

Sir Martin seemed to gloat about his results, opening of new markets, and the wealth creation for share-holders. All well done and acknowledged. But when you have more than 2,00,000 employees, you are duty bound to gaze into the future not merely at future sources of business but also future successor(s) to handle the charge. There, he failed in his need to perpetuate his reign. In a corporation of this magnitude, the Board has surely been perceived as a failure in its fiduciary responsibility. By all means, buy companies but grow your own leaders.
 

If the business is now unable to identify one person from within to take over the leadership what can one judge this to be, if not neglect? A parting word about the successor whoever the person may eventually be.
 

Succeeding an autocrat is a walk in the park, half of which may be a minefield. On one hand, you have inherited a system run by one man. And you can only look good by comparison or look the same and finish any stirrings of opposition.

Yet on the other hand, you are bound to be considered flat and uninspiring unless you show results and control both, instantly. It’s a bit like walking in behind a juggler and being asked to take over the eight balls in the air. A successor walking in to lead when the senior leadership is dejected and may want him to fail is a tough act.
 

Anyone who succeeds Sir Martin will grapple with the question of whether to be like Sir Martin or to be unlike him. Either way, I hope more transparency and collegiate working will be brought into effect. It will help the world of advertising and media. The more the truth is known, the more the consensus may back the eventual successor. The best start is to have a widespread sense of the need for change.
 

Coming back to Sir Martin, his departure will certainly make WPP a different place in due course. Management inertia inevitably makes change frictional. He was Boss #1 to #10 for 33 years. He has said he will be available to help with the transition. He did not realize, that now his not being there is the desperately needed transition.
 

One who claims an empire must build Imperial institutions.

They must be longer than his departing shadow

If only Sir Martin would’ve read and adhered to the declaration of King Henry
 

“Are these things …necessities?

Then let us meet them like necessities…”

Shakespeare

King Henry IV, Part2

 

(The author is a marketer based out of Mumbai)

Category: Creative Zone Volume No: 0 Issue No: 0

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