|WPP Group CEO Martin Sorrell was banished by the court to the basement of his London home.
During the final months of his marriage to Sandra Carol Ann Sorrell, his wife of over 32 years, the WPP Group chief executive was banished by court order to the basement of his family home at Walton Place in London. And that’s just one of the humbling domestic details disclosed in an 18-page decision handed down by His Honorable Mr. Justice Bennett in the High Court of Justice, Family Division, on July 29 and made public Oct. 10.
Details aside, the core issue in the court, of course, was how the assets garnered during the couple’s marriage should be split: The former Mrs. Sorrell argued for a 50-50 division, while Mr. Sorrell requested 60% for himself and 40% for his ex-wife.
What Mrs. Sorrell got
Though Mr. Bennett decided for Mr. Sorrell, his former wife made out OK. Her take: $51.5 million in assets, including the family home at Walton Place, SW3 in London (valued at $5.7 million), two parking spaces ($322,346) and a host of bank accounts, savings certificates, bonds and pension funds.
In a decision that might be something of a salve to the ego of a man allowed only into the basement -- even if it is in a $5.7 million home -- Mr. Bennett decided against the 50-50 split because the entrepreneurship and genius he displayed in creating and building WPP Group met the so-called special criteria required to depart from a normal equal split of assets under British divorce law.
A spark of genius
Mr. Bennett, reviewing a slew of stories written in magazines such as Fortune and Campaign, came to agree with Mr. Sorrell’s view of himself, put forth in a written statement, in which he said that "I do believe that a total family fortune of over 100 million pounds, of which almost all is invested in WPP, represents a spectacular contribution which can fairly [be] categorized as exceptional. This does not represent the fruits of one lucky gamble, or merely dedication and determination, rather ... through a rare, if not unique, combination of inspiration, innovation, courage and hard work. I find it hard to see how the creation of wealth through the exploitation of an inherent gift for music, or sport or art could be qualitatively different from the creation of wealth through the exploitation of my own abilities."
According to Mr. Bennett, "The evidence establishes that the true explanation for this extraordinary success story is that the husband does possess the 'spark' or 'force' or 'seed' of genius, call it what one will."
Still, Mr. Bennett was sympathetic to the sufferings of Mrs. Sorrell during her marriage: "I agree that Mr. Sorrell did not behave as a 'good' husband in that from about 1993 he conducted an affair about which the wife learned in 1999. I agree he was insensitive about his occupation of Walton Place post the wife making clear in late 2003 and 2004 that the marriage was over." According to Mrs. Sorrell’s lawyer, in the later years of their marriage, Mr. Sorrell had "marginalized" and "dehumanized" her, and "discarded her from his affections."
Mr. Bennett also agreed with Mrs. Sorrell’s argument that she devoted herself to raising their three sons while Mr. Sorrell was the breadwinner. "I have no doubt that the brunt of running the home/s and bringing up the boys fell on the wife. She more than willingly undertook those very important, time-consuming roles. She can be justly proud of what she has achieved." But he finds fault with her claim that Mr. Sorrell was "a father by appointment," and calls the 472-page exhibit to her affadavit, in which she details her contribution, an example of trying to "overegg the pudding."
Even though Mr. Sorrell lost the house and the cellar at Walton Place, he is by no means homeless. Among the assets he retains is the couple's property at St. Paul de Vence, in the Provence region of France.