Digital media are growing at "explosive levels" in most markets, Mr. Sorrell has said. In the past year alone, WPP.com has bought stakes in digital entities including LiveWorld, a creator of message boards, blogs and social networking sites; online-game publisher WildTangent; and, most recently, Spot Runner, an Internet ad agency. "You'll see us continuing to do more of it," Mr. Sorrell told analysts in August.
Mr. Read is also director of strategy for the holding company and is well-known to top executives and new-business chiefs at each of the 200-plus entities within the WPP empire. He acts as the quiet hand that coordinates teams on holding-company reviews such as HSBC, Intel and Samsung. "Mark's a player," says Avi Dan, global executive director at Havas' Euro RSCG Worldwide and former managing partner at WPP-owned Berlin Cameron United. "He possesses a rare combination: knowing the intricate details of WPP and having a global view."
According to another ex-WPP employee who worked with Mr. Read on the successful HSBC pitch: "He knows what Martin wants to achieve, and he knows how to deliver the goods." An executive at a WPP operating company adds: "Nothing slips through the cracks with Mark."
Mr. Read, who wouldn't be interviewed for this article, joined WPP straight out of the University of Cambridge and stayed for six years-five handling investor relations and business development at the parent company and one at Ogilvy & Mather. During that time he got his M.B.A. at business school INSEAD, then left to work at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton in the entertainment and media practice. In 1999, he founded WebRewards, a web-based consumer- affinity company (ultimately sold to Bertelsmann), then returned to WPP in 2002 in his current roles. He joined WPP's board in 2005.
Described as bright, thoughtful, buttoned-down and "very British," Mr. Read, 39, bears watching because, as one former WPP executive says, he's "someone Martin believes in."
* Right hand to WPP chief Martin Sorrell
* Leads holding company reviews and digital operations