Maja Pawinska Sims 30 May 2018 // 7:02AM GMT
LONDON — Sir Martin Sorrell has unveiled plans to build a new international marketing services group by taking over a FTSE-listed cash shell, just six weeks after he left WPP.
In a deal announced today, Derriston Capital, a cash shell set up in 2016 to acquire medtech companies, has agreed on the terms of a deal for a reverse takeover of S4 Capital, a newly incorporated company set up by Sorrell. Derriston announced: "a new corporate strategy to build a multi-national communication services business, initially by acquisitions."
The new entity will change its name to S4 Capital. The announcement states that the company is "at present in preliminary discussions regarding a select number of potential acquisitions that would fit with the strategy of building a multi-national communication services business. S4 Capital intends to target businesses focused on technology, data and content."
Sorrell, who becomes executive chairman of S4 Capital, said: "S4 Capital is a company that aims to build a multi-national communication services business focused on growth. There are significant opportunities for development in technology, data and content. I look forward to making this happen."
Sir Martin is personally committing £40m to the new venture, with institutional investors initially providing £11m to become shareholders and providing "substantial non-binding letters of support" to provide £150 million of further equity for acquisitions.
WPP did not impose a non-compete condition when Sorrell resigned after 33 years as chief executive in April after an investigation into his conduct. Speaking at the Techonomy conference in New York earlier this month, Sorrell said he would “start again”. At the conference, Sorrell said the “new agency model” would be “more agile, more responsive, less layered, less bureaucratic, less heavy” than marketing services companies had hitherto been, with a focus on technology, data and content.
The new deal has echoes of Sorrell’s reverse takeover of Wire & Plastics Products in 1985. “He’s borrowing from the same playbook,” Sky News quoted one of his backers as saying. Sorrell built the shopping basket manufacturer into marketing services giant WPP through acquiring J Walter Thompson (and with it Hill & Knowlton), then Ogilvy & Mather and its PR agencies, followed by Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe owner Young & Rubicam, so becoming “an accidental PR mogul”.
Sorrell’s latest move will come as no surprise to those in the industry who had commented that even at the age of 73, he showed no signs of slowing down. Speaking after Sorrell’s shock exit from WPP, R3 principal Greg Paull, who previously worked for Sorrell at Bates, said: "I think he has too much energy to retire.”
WPP’s share price dropped 7% as Sorrell left, with the company valued at more than £16 billion, after a tough 18 months in which the holding company lost a third of its market value after struggling with budget cuts from its big consumer brand clients such as P&G. The group posted slightly better-than-expected first quarter results for this year, with PR and public affairs showing the strongest growth, but speculation continues as to whether WPP will be broken up in the wake of Sorrell’s departure.
WPP chairman Roberto Quarta named Mark Read, chief executive of WPP Digital, and Andrew Scott, chief operating officer for Europe, as joint chief operating officers while the hunt for a permanent successor to Sorrell continues. Quarta is coming under increasing pressure from shareholders, ahead of its AGM on 13 June, to publish WPP's full report on the internal investigation into allegations of professional and personal misconduct, and the circumstances surrounding Sorrell’s exit from the holding company.