CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/WPP - Philip Lader, soon to be the WPP chairman, is not a yes man, Matthew Cowen writes

All US ambassadors are not created equal. For although the position has been filled by its fair share of genuine political heavyweights, there is also the suspicion that embassy posts have increasingly been used as lucrative gifts for the financial supporters of US presidents, who have no real qualifications for the role.

All US ambassadors are not created equal. For although the position has been filled by its fair share of genuine political heavyweights, there is also the suspicion that embassy posts have increasingly been used as lucrative gifts for the financial supporters of US presidents, who have no real qualifications for the role.

It's a dubious tradition that stretches back to the appointment of Joseph Kennedy as the ambassador to the UK and the arrival of the Washington society doyenne Pamela Harrimann at the US embassy in Paris. However, the issue was raised most dramatically by the case of Larry Lawrence, a 'friend' of Bill Clinton who was serving as the ambassador to Switzerland when he died in 1996. He was subsequently found to have faked a war record to help him to get the post.

Had observers been told a month or so ago that Sir Martin Sorrell would end his search for a non-executive chairman for WPP by appointing a US ambassador, they might, uncharitably, have suspected something along the above lines. After all, the long search for a replacement for the retiring Hamish Maxwell had been accompanied by murmurs around the city of London that Sorrell was largely concerned with finding a chairman who would not infringe on his personal authority. However, after the turbulence of Sorrell's reign at WPP, the grey suits wanted a genuine heavyweight to act as a safety check.

When Sir Christopher Lewinton, the former executive chairman of TI Group, was mooted for the post, the City suspected that a yes man was being manouvered into place and gave the idea a significant vote of no confidence.

Philip Lader, the US ambassador to the UK, seems like a perfect compromise. The grey suits get a chairman with the trans-atlantic profile that they consider crucial to advising businesses such as J. Walter Thompson and Young & Rubicam. Sorrell gets a man with no specific advertising experience who could be expected to leave him to run things.

Except that Lader is not that kind of US ambassador. His appointment represents far more than a sop to the City. Instead it is a coup that should open up a wide range of opportunities for WPP and should finally allay the concerns of the City that too many reins are being held by Sorrell.

Lader didn't spend time before his arrival at Grosvenor Square doling up cash for Clinton. He held cabinet rank as the administrator of the US Small Business Association and as the White House's deputy chief of staff. He's a genuine player, both in the game of politics and, more importantly, business. And it's hard to imagine a company chairman who won't be happy to take his calls.

However, Lader represents a challenge for Sorrell as well. His hands-on approach to the post of ambassador was famously demonstrated when he chose to walk the length of Britain to familiarise himself with the territory.

His attention to detail led to a rap on the knuckles for the Conservative Party after they included his name in party fundraising literature.

WPP could soon be run as more of a partnership of equals. 'I'm not a very passive sort of fellow, nor is Sorrell,' Lader said on his appointment. 'It is our mutual desire that I be a non-executive but very active chairman.'



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