WPP chief cashes in shares to fund divorce settlement

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It was Ivana Trump who famously said "don't get mad, get everything" when divorcing her property tycoon husband, Donald.

Yesterday, it emerged that the chief executive of WPP, Sir Martin Sorrell, is the latest in a string of prominent British businessmen to be forced to sell shares in the companies they run to pay thumping divorce settlements. He parted with shares in the advertising group worth more than £12m on Monday, but retains a stake worth more than £85m.

During an acrimonious split, it was alleged in court papers that Sir Martin's marriage to Lady Sorrell was damaged by his globetrotting work schedule at WPP.

Lady Sorrell claimed Sir Martin had "marginalised and dehumanised her". In October, she was awarded a settlement of £30m that included a Georgian town house and two spaces in the car park of Harrods. She is appealing against the decision, claiming the award is too mean.

Sir Martin's sale follows a similar move last month by the chairman of Rugby Estates, David Tye.

Mr Tye sold almost 14 per cent of the property company - more than half of his stake - to raise £5.6m to pay off his wife of 20 years, Grace. The couple met when she became his secretary, and he proposed only two weeks later.

Last June, Stephen Marks surrendered majority control of French Connection, the fashion retailer he founded, after cashing in £40m of shares to fund his £50m divorce from Ailsa, a former fashion journalist 20 years his junior, after their 10-year marriage hit the rocks.

Others to hawk stock in recent years to pay off estranged wives include Ron Aldridge, the chairman of the support services group Capita, who sold £7.6m of shares.

Mark Dixon, the former hot dog salesman who founded the managed offices group Regus, undertook a complex agreement in which he loaned £28.7m of shares to the investment bank Bear Stearns temporarily to fund his split.

In the past, it was easier for high-profile businessmen to keep more amicable divorces to themselves. That has changed for directors with hefty stakes in the companies they run. Wives, still usually the poorer partners in prominent splits, are now awarded much bigger settlements. Courts take into account the value of shares and have overcome queasiness about unsettling those businesses included in marital assets. Rich executives can trim their payouts only if they can convince the court they have "stellar" business qualities.