Martin Sorrell on Persistence and Speed

You were once quoted as saying: “WPP is not a matter of life or death, it’s more important than that”.

That’s a plagiarism of Bill Shankly’s quote, it sits on my desk and it’s something like “football is not a matter of life or death, it’s much more important than that” so I just substitute WPP for football.

What significance does that quote in particular have for you?

Founders have an emotional attachment that managers or turnaround artists don’t have. I have an emotional commitment: if we win something I take it personally, if we lose something I take it personally, if somebody joins us I take it personally, if somebody leaves us I take it personally. It’s beyond just a job.

The media often says that you’re always busy and very restless and have to keep active. Is this really the case or is it a bit of a caricature?

You can ask others but I think that probably is the case. I am very focused on the business, probably too focused. Some would say it’s an obsession, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

How would you characterize your management style?

I don’t think you could characterise it, I think it’s idiosyncratic. When you get knighted you go to the College of Arms to work out a motto and mine is perseverantia et celeritate, or “persistence and speed”. I don’t think business is like brain surgery, certainly not our business. The technology aspect is certainly demanding and not easy but having said that, that is where we are focused.

I think speed is important. If I can’t give an instant response it’s because I am either unsure of the answer or I am worried about the impact of the answer. My father used to say “delay is a negative” and I think there’s a lot in that.

Not that I am comparing our business to politics but I always remember somebody being asked “what’s the difference between business and government?” and he said “every night Gordon Brown goes to sleep knowing there are three things that are going to happen tomorrow morning that he didn’t know about when he went to bed”. It’s not on such a grand scale here but there is always good news and bad news. When you think of the scale of the operation it’s hardly surprising really.

How do you account for your own success?

That’s not for me to say, that’s for others to say, it would be presumptuous for me to offer an opinion. My dad said “find a job you enjoy doing” and I think that’s a critical component. It’s a terrible phrase but “a bad decision on Monday is better than a good decision on Friday”, meaning you should just get on with it and I think that’s really important.

It means if someone phones you, phone them back, if someone writes you a note, answer them as quick as you can because they have taken the trouble to write it, don’t ignore them. Those are the sort of things that I think are important.

Read full length here

Sir Martin Stuart Sorrell is a British businessman and the founder of WPP plc, the world’s largest advertising and PR group

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