WPP Shareholders Register Discontent Over Sorrell's Exit Package

WPP Shareholders Register Discontent Over Sorrell's Exit Package

WPP Plc shareholders displayed their discontent over the retirement package awarded to ousted founder Martin Sorrell and the board’s handling of his dramatic exit at the advertising giant’s annual meeting.

While all resolutions passed, according to proxies submitted ahead of the meeting, about 30 percent voted against the remuneration report. Executive Chairman Roberto Quarta was re-elected with about 83 percent of proxy votes in favor.

Quarta has come under fire following the resignation of Sorrell, who built a global advertising empire from the shell of a wire shopping basket maker. The WPP board has faced calls to release the details of the investigation into personal misconduct and misuse of company assets that led to Sorrell’s departure in April. Multiple reports this week said WPP probed allegations that Sorrell used company money to pay for a prostitute, allegations he denies.

Several proxy advisory firms recommended voting against the pay report and Quarta’s re-election, citing concerns over the lack of disclosure about Sorrell’s departure. Sorrell, 73, is in line to receive as many as 1.65 million shares of WPP paid out over the next five years in a retirement package, though the company’s weak share performance means he probably won’t be paid in full. The shares are worth about 20 million pounds ($27 million) based on WPP’s current stock price.

“I believe that the board has acted appropriately throughout this process,” Quarta said in a speech at the meeting. “The board were fully informed throughout the investigation.”

Neither Sorrell nor the company have publicly discussed details of the departure, citing a confidentiality agreement that Quarta reiterated in his speech. WPP has maintained that the funds in question weren’t material and Sorrell has denied any wrongdoing. Sorrell, who owns about 2 percent of WPP shares, wasn’t present at Wednesday’s meeting.

Sales Improvement

Shareholders did receive some positive news on Wednesday with WPP reporting a slight improvement in sales in the first four months. WPP said like-for-like revenue less pass-through costs rose marginally as strong April growth in Western Continental Europe, Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe offset a decline in North America. That was better than a first-quarter decline of 0.1 percent.

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