James Moore: Settling scores over pay with Sir Martin Sorrell


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Outlook Welcome to the jungle Roberto Quarta. The new WPP chairman is a former industrialist turned serial non-executive director. He  currently chairs Smith & Nephew and IMI, but the medical equipment maker and the metal basher aren’t in the same ball park as WPP when it comes to generating heat. They’re not in the same league.

Nor are their executives in the same league as WPP’s chief executive, Sir Martin Sorrell, when it comes to generating pay outrages.

WPP has endured successive shareholder revolts over his package. But he’s hardly the only member of the executive committee to be in receipt of rewards that are hard to justify anywhere other than in executive La La Land. WPP is a phenomenally successful firm. But a question hangs over it, one that looms ever larger when AGM time comes around: in whose interests is it run? Those who put their money at risk to fund its activities, or the executives who run it for them?

There has been a perception the balance is skewed too far in favour of the latter. And that is the issue now facing Mr Quarta. The spin doing the rounds yesterday held he is no mere “Yes Man” and will be quite capable of standing up to Sir Martin and his allies. But then, that’s what you’d expect to hear upon the appointment of a new chairman.

Back in the day, Sir Owen Green, who was Mr Quarta’s boss at BTR, said this of him in an interview with Management Today: “Bob is an American and Americans believe in something called The Score. The amount of money you are paid represents your value in the world.” It was denied, of course, but it’s a concept Sir Martin would appear to be very familiar with. Which doesn’t bode well for the cause of WPP’s shareholders, unless Mr Quartro has undergone a Damascene conversion to the cause of corporate governance over the two decades since the interview was published.