David Blecken
Jun 13, 2018

WPP to review policy after bullying allegations

In an all-staff email, WPP COO Mark Read seeks to reinforce a culture in which employees feel "safe and supported".

Mark Read
Mark Read

A leaked internal memo from Mark Read, WPP’s chief operating officer, promises a review of company policy and code of conduct following allegations of boorish behaviour towards staff by former CEO Sir Martin Sorrell.

In the email, which Campaign obtained, addressed to all WPP staff, Read begins by saying: “When I come to work I expect to be treated with respect by my colleagues, and every one of you reading this has the right to expect the same”.

He refers to recent press coverage that alleged Sorrell routinely bullied WPP employees, in particular his personal support staff. An article the Financial Times published on Monday quotes a former WPP executive describing Sorrell as “brutal and inhuman in how he dealt with his assistants”. The article details a “thankless” culture in which Sorrell showered verbal abuse on staff who felt powerless to challenge him.

Read says WPP "can't comment on specific allegations", but adds, “I feel we should remind ourselves of and reinforce the kind of values we want and need to have within every part of our business: values of fairness, tolerance, kindness and—again—respect”.

Read adds that all employees should feel “safe and supported” and be able to raise concerns if necessary. He reminds staff of an independently operated hotline, ‘Right to Speak’, that WPP has had in place for a number of years. "I encourage you to use it if you ever feel the need to report something on a confidential and anonymous basis," Read writes.

Presumably acknowledging that the helpline alone may not be enough to tackle instances of power harassment, Read goes on to say that he and Andrew Scott, joint-chief operating officer, “have committed to the board that we will lead a review of how our policies and codes of conduct are put into practice at the parent company, and how we can make improvements. Our leadership teams will be doing this throughout the Group”.

Sorrell resigned from WPP in April following an investigation into personal misconduct. Controversially, the company did not disclose details of the investigation. On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported that it focused on the use of company funds to pay a prostitute. Sorrell has denied that such a transaction took place.

WPP has yet to appoint a successor to Sorrell and is reportedly considering both internal and external candidates. Read is among those tipped to take on the role.

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