London, New York: It was the deal that got away.
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s Warren Buffett and Martin Sorrell, former CEO at UK ad giant WPP Plc, discussed a potential tie-up of the two companies in 2012, Sorrell has said. The acquisition by Berkshire never happened because the two couldn’t agree on price.
Buffett “was really interested in WPP becoming part of Berkshire,” Sorrell said. “We had a brief conversation and he’s very shrewd. He cuts to the quick. He’s very fixed in terms of price and the premium he offered was not sufficient.
“It was about 15 per cent, maybe a little bit more. The average premium was 30 per cent, and we couldn’t encourage him to go to 30. I would’ve loved to have done that if it had been at the right price.”
Buffett and Sorrell were both interested in chatting “on an exploratory basis”, Buffett’s assistant, Debbie Bosanek, said in an email, adding that they weren’t sure who initiated the talks.
The billionaire investor offered £9.25 (Dh44.25) per share for WPP, which wasn’t enough, Sorrell said. WPP is down 33 per cent this year over a slowdown in its North America business and on investor concerns that its sprawling network of agencies haven’t retooled to respond to shifts in the ad industry.
Sorrell took a maker of wire shopping baskets and grew it into the world’s biggest ad group over three decades, with agencies including Ogilvy, Grey and J. Walter Thompson. He abruptly resigned from the company in April over an investigation into allegations of misconduct by the executive, but has denied any wrongdoing.
He had previously sought to play down any potential rivalry between his new venture S4 Capital Plc and WPP, but on Thursday, November 1, took a dig at his former employer. “The best form of revenge would be building a significant and successful new-era, new-format, new-approach agency,” Sorrell said, after criticising WPP’s handling of the misconduct probe. “I want to build the best.”