Martin Sorrell hit out on Thursday at the "leak" that preceded his departure from WPP, in one of his first public appearances since he resigned from the advertising group in April.
At an event on Thursday during the Cannes Lions advertising conference, Sir Martin, who has denied wrongdoing, complained about the "leak" to the Wall Street Journal that the company was investigating an allegation against him of personal misconduct.
“The most damaging thing that happened during the course of those events...was the leak over the Easter weekend at the very top of the company, and which to my knowledge there has been no investigation whatsoever,” he said.
Sir Martin also hinted he had been treated unfairly by WPP. “The company has been at pains recently to say that every employee is treated equally, the fundamental principle of which I agree. But I would disagree violently with that premise: not everyone has been treated equally. There has been no investigation to my knowledge of how, why and what the leak consisted of and I think that is a fundamental flaw,” he said.
WPP told the Financial Times the company "takes confidentiality very seriously" and is "acting appropriately" in terms of the leak. As to whether Sir Martin has been treated fairly, WPP said the procedure for dealing with whistleblower allegations was "put in place when he was CEO".
Sir Martin also referred to "scurrilous and salacious stuff that has been thrown around" in the media following his exit from the company. The Financial Times this month published a detailed account of the events and allegations that preceded his departure from WPP, which Sir Martin had turned into the world's largest advertising group.
He said Mark Read and Andrew Scott, whom the company appointed to run the company on a temporary basis, should be named permanent joint chief executives. He rejected criticism that WPP had an inadequate succession plan.
“For the last eight, nine, 10 years there was a succession plan,” he said. “There was the ‘hit by the bus plan’, which I was – or shot,” he said, to laughter from the crowd. He added that making Mr Read and Mr Scott joint chief executives would “be a very powerful and potent combination”.
Sir Martin has moved swiftly to start a new company since leaving WPP and dismissed fears that the venture, S4 Capital, would be a rival to his former employer. "I've referred to S4 as a peanut and I can't believe anyone would be worried about a peanut – although some people do have peanut allergies," he said.
“We’re looking at a number of opportunities in what I would call new era, new age. That is not a condemnation of what WPP has been doing for the last 33 years...it’s just an acknowledgment that the business has changed. We in our industry tend to be stuck in the past,” he said.
Sir Martin launched S4 with backing from shareholders including Jacob Rothschild and suggested he had been inspired by the role of consultancies such as Accenture Interactive in the advertising industry.
– Financial Times