Communication is the key to global success, says WPP chief

He certainly has. In 1985 Sir Martin Sorrell took a stake in Wire and
Plastic Products Plc, a UK manufacturer of wire baskets. His plan was
to use this public entity to build a worldwide marketing services
company. In 1987 WPP acquired the J Walter Thompson Group for $566m, it
listed on the NASDAQ in 1988, acquired the Ogilvy Group in 1989 for

The list goes on and on. Today, WPP is one of the world’s largest
communications services groups. It employs 130,000-plus people, has
more than 2,000 offices, operates in 106 countries and has revenues of
more than £6bn.

“Luck is important in business but you make your own luck,” Sir Martin
says. “But if you are not persistent, you won’t be lucky. You need to
be quick, to be humble and you need to guard against complacency.”

He says that the secret of his success has been the free trade
environment he operates in. His concern is that protectionism will
creep in.

“Of all the regions in the world we operate, I think the biggest
dangers are in western Europe,” he says. “It needs a much more
co-ordinated approach but the British will do something, France
something else, Germany will hold back. While at the same time India
and China are heading back to the pre-eminence they had a few hundred
years ago.”

Looking further afield, Sir Martin says the future looks bright,
despite current headlines. “Take Pakistan,” he says. “Even with its
problems, the country is still booming. The same goes for Vietnam, for

Sir Martin talks excitedly about Asia, eastern Europe, South America and Africa all offering huge opportunities.

In terms of his own business, Sir Martin says people are motivated by a
clear vision and they are also motivated by growth. But it’s also
important to communicate internally and externally.

“No communication doesn’t pay,” he adds. “In large organisations it can
be difficult. There are blocks on communication. As the person at the
top, you hear about the good news quickly, but not the bad.”

Sir Martin says it is important to find yourself a sounding board,
someone not too closely associated with your business, to discuss
problems honestly.

“My father died in 1989,” he says. “I used to talk with him four or
five times a day, even when I was busy. He was clever, intellectual and
I found it to be a great help to me.”

Sir Martin concludes by outlining his passion for the business.
“[Former Liverpool FC manager] Bill Shankly used to say football was
more important than life and death. I feel the same way about WPP.”

This interview was previously featured on the Telegraph Business Club