WPP interview: Mark Read and Roberto Quarta promise 'radical evolution'

WPP's new chief executive Mark Read has promised "radical evolution" and chairman Roberto Quarta has insisted there were "plenty" of candidates who wanted the chief executive's job.

Read and Quarta, speaking in a joint interview with Campaign, said the priority for Sir Martin Sorrell's successor is to return the company to growth after sales went into reverse and the share price fell by a third last year.

Read, an insider who has been in temporary charge since April, reiterated his opposition to a break-up of the group, said he expects to make more acquisitions in "technologically-driven areas" and "simplify the portfolio" by merging more agencies, such as the recent Burson-Marsteller merger with Cohn & Wolfe.

"I think the phrase is ‘radical evolution’," he said. "We need to move with pace and determination, but not break what we have."

Quarta described Read as "a dynamic leader who has the support of our people, who has the support of clients and has the vision for what the business needs to look like to meet the challenges of the future".

Sorrell has repeatedly criticised Quarta and the board in recent months, but the chairman refused to retalitate, saying: "He's entitled to say whatever he wants to say."

Here is a transcript of the interview:

Campaign: Some people say it’s a nightmare job and you were short of applicants. 

Quarta: "I don’t know where they get that from. We had plenty of very well qualified candidates that were very eager to take the job and they were global candidates. We had a quite a broad spectrum in terms of candidate selection.

"When it was all said and done, we as a board concluded – for all the reasons I tried to summarise in my quote in the stock market announcement – to ask Mark to take on the job. We have a great deal of confidence that we chose the right person." 

Campaign: What does success look like in, say, the next 24 months?

Quarta: "It’s the resumption of growth for the company. That’s a clear understanding of what our clients need. We spent an awful lot of time in the last five months in listening mode because our clients were saying: they value what we’ve always done, but we need to understand they need things done slightly differently in light of the challenges and pressures they are facing. A lot has [already] been accomplished – in terms of how successful we’ve been on pitches in the last several months.

Campaign: Mark, you talk about the ad industry facing structural change, not structural decline. What’s the evidence that WPP can easily return to growth?

Read: "The industry overall is growing and we need to grow at or above our peers. You’ll see the evidence over the next few quarters as the measures we plan to take position the company better to grow.

"When I talk to clients, they do value what the group does. There’s no evidence to me that the demand for marketing, branding, CRM, e-commerce – all the things that we’ve done – is declining."

Campaign: What kind of leader do you see yourself being?

Read: "I want to make the company successful and the people inside of it successful. And if I do that, I will be successful is the way I think about it."

Campaign: There has been a lot of talk about restructuring. What can you say about what the future shape of WPP should be?

Read: "We need to focus on the growth areas of the business – the more technologically-driven areas of the group. Look at what we’ve done in the last few months in terms of acquisitions and divestments.

"We’ve acquired Gorilla, a really strong ecommerce company in the United States, and Hirshorn Zuckerman Design Group, a really strong integrated digital agency – so focusing on the area where marketing and technology are converging.

"The second thing we’ve done is simplify parts of the portfolio like bringing Burson and Cohn & Wolfe together – so a little bit about combining the group internally [by merging agencies]. And then we’ve been divesting of non-core investments [such as App Nexus] to tidy up the portfolio.

"It’s about refocusing what we do on the growth areas. We’ve also said the group needs to come together, not further apart, so we’re not looking at a break-up of WPP.

"I think the phrase is ‘radical evolution’. We need to move with pace and determination, but not break what we have."

Campaign: Roberto, the last five months have been tough and some shareholder advisory groups have called on investors to vote against you, although you won re-election. Have you had enough of being chairman?

Quarta: "No. The job of a chairman seems really easy until situations like this occur. When these things occur, you just have to do your job, and that’s what I think I did. I’m certainly looking forward to continuing with the company, staying on as chairman and working with Mark and the management team. We’re entering what I believe is a very, exciting new chapter in the company’s history."

Campaign: It can’t have been easy when Sorrell has criticised the WPP board’s handling of issues such as his departure and the exit of non-executive director Hugo Shong...

Quarta: "He’s entitled to say whatever he wants to say. I really can’t comment on it. People will have to judge what he says and the content that’s being said. We’re moving on with the company and that’s all I can say.

"It was a very challenging time [when Sorrell quit]. The decision to appoint Mark and Andrew Scott as co-chief operating officers [in April] was probably the best decision we could have made and it is proving to be a very successful formula. I give them credit for keeping the ship stable and moving forward and actually achieving an awful lot of things in the last few months. I am sure that working together with the rest of the management team, they will be able to execute this evolutionary strategy that we’ve been talking about."

Campaign: Is there one thing to look out for, one change to come, in the coming months?

Read: "We’re really focused on growth."

This article first appeared on PRWeek sister title Campaign

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