WPP adds high-flyer Hannah Ahrendts to new-style board

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WPP CEO Mark Read is assembling a formidable board: the latest to join is former Apple retail and Burberry boss Angela Ahrendts. She joins Microsoft UK CEO Cindy Rose and former Unilever marketing chief Keith Weed among others.

Ahrendts (below) ticks lots of boxes: female, an accomplished business leader and one who, presumably, knows tech, WPP’s new mantra.

WPP chairman Roberto Quarta (the person who ‘runs’ the board) says: “Angela’s reputation as a leader of creative and technology-driven businesses is second to none. She also has deep insight into our clients’ needs in a changing world. We are delighted that she will be joining the WPP board.”

Ahrendts says: “WPP is one of the world’s leading creative companies. Mark and his excellent leadership team have a strong sense of purpose and a strategy that values creative talent while embracing societal shifts and new technologies. I am so honoured to support their ongoing development as a member of the WPP Board.”

One thing board directors do from time to time is fire the CEO, as Read’s predecessor Sir Martin Sorrell discovered – officially he resigned although Quarta and the board didn’t give him much choice as various allegations against him were made public. Sorrell had kept the board firmly in its place for decades but that began to change with the appointment of Quarta.

Read is a less colourful character than Sorrell, much more collegiate. Doubtless his board colleagues like him. But WPP still has a mountain (actually a range of mountains) to climb if it’s going to recapture its glory days. The shares halved on the outbreqk of Covid-19 and, although they’ve recovered to an extent since, it’s no longer even the most highly valued ad holding group. That now belongs to US rival Omnicom.

Ultimately the board of a PLC reports to shareholders, the owners of the company. If a bid comes in, then they’re duty-bound to assess it on its financial merits. There’ll be quite a few bankers looking at WPP and wondering if it’s worth more in a break-up than it’s likely to be as one.

This is a heavyweight board for a company now valued at about £8bn. It’s hard to think of any non-exec directors at rivals Omnicom, Publicis, Interpublic and Dentsu. The bar, for Read, has maybe inched upwards a bit further.

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