Martin Sorrell: I'm going to start again

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Martin Sorrell at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January.
Martin Sorrell at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January. Credit: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Martin Sorrell said he doesn't plan to go into "voluntary or involuntary retirement" and plans to "start again" during a speaking engagement in New York on Tuesday morning.

In an onstage interview with David Kirkpatrick, founder and CEO of Techonomy, Sorrell answered a question regarding his next plans. The former CEO of WPP exited in mid-April following an internal investigation into misconduct, ending a 33-year career at the world's largest agency holding company.

When asked what's next, he said, "Well, the first thing I'm going to do is tell my son 'I'll call you back.'"

He continued: "I'm going to start again ... I won't tell you any more about that. I will tell you I'll start again. I'm not going to go into voluntary or involuntary retirement."

Sorrell talked about his love for the industry. "It was serendipity when it happened, when I met the Saatchi brothers in 1975," he said. "That was serendipity. That was chance. I was looking for an industry where the barriers to entry, not physical but sort of mental barriers, were not significant, and this was an industry where I thought, rather like sports and entertainment, that the barriers to entry were very, very low and extremely open."

Sorrell said through the years, he has found it an extremely attractive industry in which to continue a career.

"It's something that I enjoy," he said. "The people I find engaging. Sometimes they can be difficult. In fact, the better the people, the more difficult they are."

When an audience member asked him to comment on the future of traditional advertising, Sorrell said, "I can say this having been sort of extracted, if that's the right word, from WPP."

Kirkpatrick asked what the right word was. "Extracted," Sorrell said.

Sorrell then finished that legacy companies have positive aspects like reputation, knowledge and experience, along with "warts and problems."

"Coming out of being extracted from WPP, I think I can see much more clearly where there are the growth pieces and where there are more challenged pieces. I don't want to say that the traditional ad business is not capable of reinvention. It is capable of reinvention, and it will be reinvented." He said that anyone leading holding companies understands this.

He said amid many questions about what the future of agencies looks like, he believes it's "technology, data and content that are critically important."

"Trying to bring those together in a legacy is extremely important," he said.

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