Ex-AOL chief being considered to succeed Sorrell at WPP

Tim Armstrong among range of external options for top job with advertising giant

Tim Armstrong: the former Google executive ran AOL until its $4.4 billion sale to Verizon in 2015. Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/Bloomberg

Tim Armstrong: the former Google executive ran AOL until its $4.4 billion sale to Verizon in 2015. Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/Bloomberg

 

Tim Armstrong, the former AOL chief executive, is being considered to succeed Martin Sorrell as head of WPP, the marketing and communications group, according to people with knowledge of the search process.

WPP is exploring a range of external options for the post, among the biggest in advertising, as it looks to bounce back after a torrid 18 months in which its shares have tumbled as brands cut their spending.

Mr Armstrong, who declined to comment, ran AOL until its $4.4 billion sale to Verizon in 2015. He is chief executive of Oath, the Verizon subsidiary that owns AOL and Yahoo, which Verizon acquired last year.

Keith Weed, the chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever, one of the world’s biggest advertisers, has also been mentioned as a possible successor to Sir Martin, according to people close to the process. Mr Weed, who also declined to comment, oversees advertising for the consumer products company, which owns some of the world’s biggest brands, including Magnum, Dove and Persil.

Headhunter

WPP has hired headhunter Russell Reynolds to find a new chief executive following Sir Martin’s departure last month after a board investigation into an allegation of personal misconduct. The company promoted Mark Read and Andrew Scott to co-chief operating officer roles after Sir Martin left. Mr Read, the former head of Wunderman, a WPP digital agency, is also a candidate for the top job.

WPP owns companies including GroupM, Ogilvy & Mather, Kantar and J Walter Thompson. Some analysts anticipate a break-up of the group, with Kantar, its market research firm, likely to be the first business to be sold. WPP has been approached by private equity groups including CVC Capital Partners regarding a sale of the unit. The move followed the end of talks between WPP and Nielsen, the market research group, about a potential Nielsen-Kantar combination.

WPP said in a recent statement that it was “too early to speculate about specific asset sales”. However, it has confirmed that it is examining its portfolio of minority and associate investments, where it has stakes in companies such as Vice Media and AppNexus. Mr Scott recently told analysts that the portfolio had a value of about $3 billion. “There’s an opportunity to look at,” he said. “But we’re not going to be in a rush to do it.”

Restructure

Mr Armstrong, a former Google executive, was appointed chief executive of AOL in 2009 to restructure and revive a company that was becoming less relevant after reaching dizzying heights during the first dotcom bubble.

The search for Sir Martin’s successor is at an early stage. He has no non-compete agreement with WPP so would be free to launch a rival advertising group. This week he told a New York conference that he would “start again” after leaving the marketing and communications group he built over 33 years.

He told the Techonomy conference that he had been “extracted” from WPP but vowed to keep working. “I’m not going into voluntary or involuntary retirement,” he said.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018