A senior executive at IBM, the American technology giant, has been approached about the top job at WPP Group as it homes in on a successor to Sir Martin Sorrell.
Sky News has learnt that David Kenny, the senior vice-president of IBM’s Watson and Cloud Platform division, was interviewed last month in New York by WPP chairman Roberto Quarta and boardroom colleagues.
This weekend, he ruled himself out of the running for the job, when an IBM spokesman responded to the disclosure of Mr Kenny’s involvement in the search process by saying he “has confirmed he is not a candidate for this role”.
The spokesman did not deny that Mr Kenny had been interviewed for the WPP job.
WPP, the marketing services giant led by Sir Martin for more than three decades before his abrupt exit in April, is expected to announce the identity of his replacement at around the time of its half-year results on 4 September.
Mr Kenny has been interviewed along with two other candidates: Mark Read, the co-chief operating officer who is a long-serving WPP executive; and Hamish McLennan, an advertising industry veteran.
The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Mr McLennan was no longer in contention to become only the second chief executive in WPP’s history, and that Mr Read was now the outright favourite for the role.
However, sources close to the situation said that WPP’s board had yet to finalise a decision.
Mr Kenny’s involvement in the process, which has not previously been reported, suggests that Mr Quarta has continued to consider at least one external candidate for the role as recently as the last fortnight.
The IBM executive was previously the chairman and chief executive of The Weather Company, an IBM subsidiary focused on weather forecasting and information technology services.
Before that, he ran Akamai, an enterprise cloud platform.
His most relevant experience in the context of the WPP job was as the managing partner of VivaKi, a global worldwide media and digital division of Publicis Groupe, the FTSE-100 company’s Paris-based rival.
Mr Kenny also jointly founded Digitas, an international marketing services agency.
Whoever takes over from Sir Martin will face a series of challenges as the advertising industry reshapes itself amid a barrage of technological shifts led by the likes of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and Facebook.
Many senior executives are said to be keen on Mr Read’s appointment, partly because of his familiarity with WPP’s operations and culture.
Some investors have expressed concern that Mr Read would be likely to leave the company if he does not land the role.
Sir Martin’s departure, which followed a probe into allegations of personal misconduct that he had strenuously denied, brought to an end the tenure of the longest-serving boss in London’s blue-chip share index.
He had turned WPP from a maker of shopping baskets into the world’s most valuable marketing services conglomerate by market value, snapping up agency networks such as Ogilvy & Mather and J Walter Thompson along the way.
Sir Martin’s exit has triggered a series of verbal and legal hostilities between him and the company he led for more than 30 years.
He has established S4 Capital, a new marketing services platform which struck a £265m deal to buy MediaMonks, a Dutch digital agency which counts Audi and Lego among its clients.
WPP also tabled an offer for MediaMonks, and has threatened to strip Sir Martin of unvested share awards worth up to £19m for allegedly breaching confidentiality undertakings in relation to his bid for the agency.
Sir Martin has denied any such breach, and insisted that S4 should not be viewed as a competitor to WPP.
He has also publicly criticised his former employer since leaving, both over the leak in April of news of the investigation into him, and more recently of the resignation of Hugo Shong, one of its non-executive directors.
WPP has made few big strategic decisions since Mr Quarta became executive chairman in April, although it has sold minority stakes in a number of businesses.
Sky News revealed last month that it was also in talks with a consortium including Alibaba and Tencent, the Chinese technology companies, about the sale of a minority shareholding in its operations in the world’s second-largest economy.
The search for Sir Martin’s successor is being handled by Russell Reynolds Associates, the headhunter.
A WPP spokesman declined to comment on Saturday.
From – SkyNews