Looking back, and toward future

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The man central to WPP's Italian controversy, Marco Benatti, broke bread with Ad Age correspondent Eric J. Lyman last week at Milan restaurant Il Baretto al Baglioni as they discussed the holding company's allegations, the executive's relationship with Chief Executive Martin Sorrell and his future.

Advertising Age: What was your biggest accomplishment as WPP's country manager?

Mr. Benatti: The company's revenues in Italy increased very dramatically between 2002 and 2005, when I was country manager. Profits more than doubled over the same period, and the company became much leaner. At one point last year, I noticed that 27 of the 30 largest clients were firms that signed with WPP under my watch. What I'm most proud of is building a very talented team. I always believed that if a company has a sound business plan and the right talent in place, an increase in revenue and things like that come automatically.

AA: How do you explain the accusations from the WPP investigation? WPP alleges that your stakes in companies are hidden through off-shore companies from Europe to the island of Niue in the South Pacific. They say such a structure can only be designed to cover something up. Also, WPP says you directed clients to FullSix.

Mr. Benatti: I honestly don't know anything about any of this. The first time I heard about some holding in Niue was when I read about it in the newspapers. I'm not a banker; I'm a businessman. Like many people, I put my investments in different funds as a hedge against risk, and I don't investigate every aspect about where or how they invest the money. There may have been something to do with Niue in all of this, but if there was I was unaware of it. As for the idea that I was sending clients to FullSix, how could that be true when I was helping WPP's revenue, profits, and client list grow so quickly? I brought in huge clients like Telecom Italia and Fiat.

AA: What would you like to tell Martin Sorrell?

Mr. Benatti: I would ask, "Martin, why are you doing this to me? What has happened? What changed? When will you come to your senses?"

AA: What would you like to be doing five years from now?

Mr. Benatti: I'd like to be doing something quite similar to what I had been doing, working in advertising, communications and media. I'd like to have an international partner. But instead of letting the partner pick me as I did with WPP, I would like to pick the partner.

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