WPP goes into open conflict with Sir Martin Sorrell over share payout

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The leading advertising and PR group, WPP, has entered into a very public dispute with its founder and former Chief Executive officer, Sir Martin Sorrell after WPP has refused to pay out his share awards owed over the past five years. 

WPP asserted that Sorrell, during his tenure as WPP Director, has leaked confidential information concerning WPP and some of its clients to the media.

Sorrell has time and again denied any impropriety, and later following a dispute over issues including his expenses and conduct Sorrell left WPP to establish rival company S4 Capital.

WPP has hinted during his departure that it could look to block payouts to Sorrell, and has now delivered on that threat, outlining in its annual report that awards granted in 2016 and 2017 under its executive performance share plan “will lapse as a result of Sir Martin Sorrell’s disclosure of confidential information belonging to WPP and certain of its clients to the media during his tenure as a WPP director”.

Sorrell was due a payment of about £200,000 relating to WPP’s 2016 long-term incentive plan, which matures after five years and only paid out at 5% of the maximum possible based on the company’s performance. WPP has also canceled a payment relating to the 2017 plan, which could be worth more than double the £200,000.

Sorrell has described the company’s decision to withdraw the grants as a “petty” move driven by anger.

“It’s a bit rich that they’re accusing me of leaks, given their own over the last three years. They’ve had to go back several years to try and find an excuse to deny me what’s mine. I’ve left it to my lawyers to deal with,” Sorrell added.

Sorrell has received more than £3m in payouts relating to share awards in the first two years following his exit.