WPP's new CEO? It's got to be Boris...
A view from Gideon Spanier

WPP's new CEO? It's got to be Boris...

WPP's search for a successor to Sir Martin Sorrell has reached the final stage when a surprise, new contender emerges, Gideon Spanier imagines...

Boris Johnson becoming chief executive of the world’s biggest advertising group was the greatest shock in media and political circles since his fellow Conservative, George Osborne, was named editor of the London Evening Standard and yet there was a beguiling logic to the appointment. 

It’s true that Johnson brought no experience of running a FTSE-100 group with £15bn a year in revenues, but WPP executive chairman Roberto Quarta was keen to find an outsider with a big name to succeed Sorrell and there was a dearth of other credible, external candidates.

And appointing Boris, who suddenly became available after resigning as Foreign Secretary and quitting the cabinet in July, made sense because he ticked so many of the boxes that Quarta had set out as requirements for the job:

A track record of strong leadership? Boris was Mayor of London for eight years, helping the city to host the 2012 Olympics and cement its status as a global capital of creative industries.

Global management experience? Boris has been Britain’s top diplomat for two years as the globe-trotting head of the Foreign Office.

Tech savvy? Perhaps not Boris’s strongest suit, but he does have 450,000 Twitter followers and has spoken at Google Zeitgeist.

Knowledge of the industry from different perspectives? The former Spectator editor has just restarted as a columnist for The Daily Telegraph and showed he knew a bit about advertising by fronting the "£350m a week for the NHS" battle bus during the Brexit referendum campaign.

Is great with clients? Boris is an unmissable, beaming presence with his mop of blond hair and has top-drawer political and media contacts from Donald Trump to Rupert Murdoch.

WPP’s board of directors did have some minor concerns about appointing another "big personality", after they clashed with Sorrell over allegations about his personal conduct

Boris is known to have a roving eye, has an unfortunate habit of making gaffes and his enthusiasm for Brexit was a potential risk for a company that generates more than 85% of its revenues outside the UK. Nor did his recent Telegraph article comparing women in burqas to "letterboxes" help his cause.

But Boris impressed the WPP board with his desire for a fresh start, his love of media and his interest in reinventing the ad agency model.

What’s more, running WPP didn’t mean Boris would have to rule out becoming prime minister one day.

After all, another blond politician with big ambitions had a long career in business before assuming the highest office in the land.

And if Trump can become US President…

Gideon Spanier is global head of media at Campaign. The above article is a sketch of imagined events and clearly not intended to be read as fact.

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