Innovators: Chief Executive of WPP, Martin Sorrell

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Innovators. They come in many forms. They dream big but they aren’t just dreamers. They form raw ideas into cool products with disruptive business models. They shatter entire industries and leave established leviathans running scared with their tails between their legs. The Innovators interview series connects you with the most driven people on the planet. What makes them tick? What advice do they have for tech founders? What tools do they use to get the job done? Read on to find out.

Sir Martin Sorrell founded WPP, the world’s largest advertising and marketing services group in 1985 and has been chief executive throughout.

WPP companies, which include some of the most eminent agencies in the business, provide clients with advertising, media investment management, consumer insight, public relations and public affairs, branding and identity, healthcare communications, direct, interactive and internet marketing, and specialist communications services.

Collectively, WPP employs over 158,000 people (including associates) in over 2,500 offices in 108 countries. The Group’s worldwide companies include JWT, Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, Y&R, Grey, Mindshare, MEC, MediaCom, Kantar (including Millward Brown and TNS), Wunderman, Burson-Marsteller, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Landor, The Brand Union, G2, Fitch, The Partners and WPP Digital (including 24/7 Media). Clients include 344 of the Fortune Global 500, 63 of the NASDAQ 100 and 33 of the Fortune e-50. In 2011, WPP had revenues of $16.1 billion and billings of $71.7 billion.

What do you enjoy most about your work and why?

I guess it’s the fact that we started 27 years ago with two people in one room with a market capitalisation of £1 million and are now 160,000 people in 108 countries with a market capitalisation of £10 billion. It’s a tremendous feeling of achievement. I also always wanted to start a business and build it to considerable size. There are people who can start things and can’t run things and people who can manage companies, but can’t start them. The skills are different and difficult to combine and I always wanted to deal with opportunities and challenges of size and complexity. The business is more interesting and demanding than it’s ever been because of continuous geographical and technological changes.

Where does your passion come from? What drives you, inspires you, excites you?

Probably from my family and particularly my father, who made considerable sacrifices for his family and me (spoilt only child). He encouraged me, looked after me, protected me and advised me. He was the best friend I’ve ever had and I owe him pretty much everything. I’m sure he derives considerable satisfaction looking down at most of the things I’ve achieved – not all!

Someone reading this wants to start a tech company. What’s your best advice for them?

It’s not fashionable to work in an industry and a company and build a reputation and a history, but that’s what I’d advise. Once you’ve built that record and history, start something on the back of that reputation and success and be very persistent and speedy. Let that entrepreneurial streak develop and unleash it.

What are a few tech startups that you’re really excited about right now and why?

I’m excited about what we’re doing at WPP and the stakes, investments and companies we’re investing in – in search, display, video, social and mobile. The latest is WPP Ventures with Tom Bedecarre of AKQA, which will give us a 24/7 presence in Silicon Valley to augment our major and complex digital investment programme. Buddy Media, Omniture, Joule, Video Egg, 24/7 Media, Vice have been some of the very exciting things we’ve been doing.

What tech tools (websites, apps, gadgets, etc.) do you rely on both for work and in your down time?

I’m still addicted to the Blackberry, but am migrating almost totally to an iPad. Can’t wait for future mobile developments and still love Flipboard, Skygrid, Sky Master, Waze, Flighttrack, the FT, the WSJ, Cricinfo, amongst other apps.

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