The Men Who Run WPP

LONDON -- Management can make all the difference to a company's success and thus its share price.

The best companies are those run by talented and experienced leaders with strong vested interests in the success of the business, held in check by a board with sound financial and business acumen. Some of the worst investments to hold are those run by executives collecting fat rewards as the underlying business goes to pot.

In this series, I'm assessing the boardrooms of companies within the FTSE 100. I hope to separate the management teams that are worth following from those that are not. Today, I am looking at WPP  (LSE: WPP  ) (NASDAQ: WPPGY  ) .

Here are the key directors:

Director

Position

Philip Lader

(non-exec) Chairman

Sir Martin Sorrell

Chief Executive

Paul Richardson

Finance Director

Mark Read

Strategy Director

Chairman since 2001, Philip Lader is the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.K., prior to which he served as Bill Clinton's deputy chief of staff. A lawyer, he once worked for Sir James Goldsmith and can probably open as many doors as any FTSE chairman.

Less is more
WPP's website contains brief biographies of each director -- except it has just a two-line CV for the CEO, informing investors that Sir Martin Sorrell joined WPP as CEO in 1986 and is a non-exec of Formula One and Alcoa.

That clever bit of marketing underlines that Sir Martin Sorrell is one of Britain's best-known businessmen. Last year, he was named Britain's most admired leader by Management Today.

Of course Sir Martin didn't just "join" WPP. After seven years as finance director of Saatchi and Saatchi, he bought into the corporate shell Wire and Plastics Products and turned it into a holding company for a collection of advertising and PR agencies, with audacious hostile takeovers of J Walter Thomson and Ogilvy and Mather.

More for less
While WPP has grown to be one of the three big global players in the advertising market, and Sir Martin is recognized as an eminence grise of the sector, shareholders have had a more variable experience over the course of his tenure. The group was nearly bankrupted by the Ogilvy and Mather acquisition.

Sir Martin's remuneration package, worth 13 million pounds last year, came under fire in the Shareholder Spring with 60% of shareholders voting against the remuneration report. He has built up 200 million pounds' worth of shares.

Long serving
WPP's other executive directors are also long serving. Paul Richardson has been finance director since 1996, after three years as treasurer. A chartered accountant, he was deputy treasurer of Hanson and has described himself as "technically very strong" in tax and treasury, complimenting Sir Martin's M&A skills.

Mark Read has been with the company since 1989, apart from a seven-year stint as a Booz Allen consultant between 1995 and 2002. He's been on the board since 2005.

WPP's non-execs are drawn from around the globe and have an impressive array of diverse backgrounds.

I analyze management teams from five different angles to work out a verdict. Here's my assessment:

1. Reputation. Management CVs and track record.

Top flight.

Score 5/5

2. Performance. Success at the company.

Good.

Score 4/5

3. Board Composition. Skills, experience, balance.

Impressive.

Score 5/5

4. Remuneration. Fairness of pay, link to performance.

Controversial and confrontational.

Score 1/5

5. Directors' Holdings, compared to their pay.

Large.

Score 4/5

Overall, WPP scores 19 out of 25, a very good result. Despite having an entrenched management team, the chairman and non-execs carry sufficient weight to be an effective check. But remuneration is generous compared to a share price that has just gotten back to levels last seen in 2000.

I've collated all my FTSE 100 boardroom verdicts on this summary page.

Buffett's favorite FTSE share
Legendary investor Warren Buffett has always looked for impressive management teams when picking stocks. His latest acquisition, Heinz, has long had a reputation for strong management. Indeed Buffett praised its "excellent management" alongside its high-quality products and continuous innovation.

So I think it's important to tell you about the FTSE 100 company in which the billionaire stock picker has a substantial stake. A special free report from The Motley Fool -- "The One U.K. Share Warren Buffett Loves" -- explains Buffett's purchase and investing logic in full.

And Buffett, don't forget, rarely invests outside his native U.S., which to my mind makes this British blue chip -- and its management -- all the more attractive. So why not download the report today? It's totally free and comes with no further obligation.

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