Print Published 30th Jul 2018, 23:23

Will things ever be as if they had never said goodbye?

The launch of Sir Martin Sorrell’s new marketing business S4 Capital is not the first occasion when a senior marketing industry executive has felt the urge to create a new empire after departing from a previous organisation in circumstances that may not have been entirely of his own choosing (see Shareholders approve Sorrell’s S4 Capital merger with listed Derriston Capital).

Peter Scott’s launch of The Engine Group filled a gap left in his working life after Havas took control of his previous agency WCRS.  He returned to lead the Engine management buyout of WCRS from Havas, seemingly with the hope of creating a new publicly listed marketing group.  Then, with very little profit being earned after paying interest to its private equity backers, Engine was sold to a US group and Scott was soon out of a job.  So he launched Be Heard Group, but this new vehicle has yet to make a cumulative profit (see Some ad agency execs never retire).

Don Elgie launched Creston after the demise of his previous agencies Grandfield Rork Collins and Elgie Stewart Smith.  He retired from Creston in March 2014 at the age of 66 after its share price and profits declined.  Since then he has resurfaced as chairman of the recently renamed and loss-making public company Kape Technologies.

And there are doubtless other examples.

Why is it that people feel the need to finish on a “high” of their own choosing, often only to find that their hopes are dashed again?

It is not surprising that the entrepreneurial flair that drives so many remains a driving force even beyond normal retirement age.  Nor is it surprising that many of us want to continue enjoying the cut and thrust of daily business, rather than retire into entirely non-executive roles and charitable works. But there may come a time when the only way is “down”, when striving to achieve the perfect ending can have the opposite outcome.

Remember Norma Desmond?   She was the central figure in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard – a faded star who longed for the studio atmosphere and the adulation of her diminishing number of followers:

The whispered conversations

In overcrowded hallways,

The atmosphere is thrilling here as always

Feel the early morning madness,

Feel the magic in the making,

Why, everything’s as if we never said goodbye.

At the age of 73, is it really the best use of his experience and talent for Sir Martin to want to create a further chapter in his unquestionably successful business life? It may not have ended as he would have chosen, but the WPP story as a whole is unrivalled in the marketing industry in recent times.

It would be a pity if the S4 Capital venture were to fall short of Sir Martin’s aspirations, or if he were still to be driven by a need to prove something.  He has proved enough.