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I always find the communications industry — especially ad agencies — fascinating. The industry employs artists who are generalists and who, whether they are aware of it or not, understand sociology. All while keeping up with deadlines, like professionals in other industries.

So I would like to describe my industry hero, Sir Martin Sorrell, as a tough founder who aggressively monetises ventures in the people-focused communications industry. He influences the industry and is an investor who can understand artists and their potential business growth.

The hostile takeover of the Ogilvy Group in 1989, the first company in marketing communications to list on the stock exchange, was a move that would end up making WPP the largest marketing communications firm in the world.

The acquisition was possible because Ogilvy Group had issued an IPO. It was said that David Ogilvy was initially very angry with Sir Martin Sorrell. But later, he became the non-executive chairman for WPP and a fan of Sorrell.

Sir Martin Sorrell did things that impressed David Ogilvy, reflecting an understanding of unique individuals, that is required in business negotiation.  

Apart from stories about his growth strategy, there are so many about how we he works.

Some of the things I’ve heard of, are his legendary fast turnaround time in responding to queries, even when he is travelling, thus building his personal brand and that of WPP (and now of S4 Capital). He has the determination to win and move faster than the others and I experienced this first hand when I worked at Ogilvy PR Indonesia.

He is also reputed to indulge in obsessive micromanagement of clients, finances and employees. I think it is because building a business is like nurturing a baby. If we want to see the baby grow and have an impact, micromanagement is sometimes unavoidable.

Sir Martin Sorrell: Admired for his attention to detail and quick turnaround time

Sometimes, only founders understand how every small piece of the puzzle can be put together  to get the big picture. The details matter in achieving such great ambition.

Having learnt about Sir Martin Sorrell and his strategy for WPP, I wonder how he will navigate the growth of S4 Capital, founded during a different setting compared to the years when he drove the growth of WPP. How will he adapt to a new economy where almost all businesses use technology as part of the operating model or growth engine?

Around 2017, he said that advertising companies have to change their business model. The merger of S4 Capital and MediaMonks showed his “classic” fast pace and his differentiated forward looking moves, embracing data, content and technology with a focus on millennials.

Many business groups have been evolving and there is a rise of new entrepreneurs around the globe. China has more capital to invest, especially in Asia and Africa. The world needs people who are growth catalysts.

I would like to see his strategy at S4 Capital take into account the rapid growth of internet use in Asia and Africa, especially by the younger population. And that resulting in benefits not just for the founders but impacting other people others via business models which promote inclusive growth.

Dian Noeh Abubakar is founder, CEO and inclusion driver at KVB | Kennedy, Voice & Berliner Indonesia

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