WPP ‘has work to do’ on racial diversity as Angela Ahrendts joins as non-exec

WPP has named former Burberry chief executive and Apple retail boss Dame Angela Ahrendts as a non-executive director, a day after the board admitted at its annual general meeting that it needs to improve racial and gender diversity.

“We are conscious that we have much work to do to ensure better representation”, particularly to improve “racially diverse leadership teams” across WPP, including at board level, Roberto Quarta, chairman at WPP, told the AGM, which was held remotely to comply with coronavirus distancing rules.

Mark Read, WPP chief executive, has set up a global inclusion council in response to the Black Lives Matter movement that will follow along similar lines as the UK inclusion board already in operation and led by Karen Blackett, UK country manager.

Ahrendts became one of the most senior women in British business during her time running Burberry until 2013, before moving to Apple, which she left in 2019.

She said: “WPP is one of the world’s leading creative companies. Mark and his excellent leadership team have a strong sense of purpose and a strategy that values creative talent while embracing societal shifts and new technologies. I am so honored to support their ongoing development as a member of the WPP board.”

Quarta said: “Angela’s reputation as a leader of creative and technology-driven businesses is second to none; she also has deep insight into our clients’ needs in a changing world.”

Ahrendts is the fourth non-executive director to join in a board refresh since September 2019.

WPP has recently recruited two other women and a man: Sandrine Dufour, a chief financial officer at Proximus; Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of London First; and Keith Weed, former chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever.

There is no-one from a black or Asian background who currently sits on the board of WPP, the world’s biggest agency group.

There will be an equal male-female ratio on the 12-strong board when Ahrendts joins in July.

Read told the AGM that racial equality is “top of mind”, after the killing of George Floyd and other “terrible racially motivated events”.

“It is important that we commit to action and we have a lot of work to do inside our organization,” he said.

The new global inclusion council “will develop a consistent approach that each of our agencies can follow, so we can track progress centrally and ensure that it extends across WPP and it can learn from a number of programs that we have across the company like WPP Roots and our employee resource groups”, Read said.

He continued: “But we do recognize that we need to take more fundamental action. A key goal will be more racially diverse leadership teams at the top of the company and it is something that we do need to address at board level as well.”

Agency leaders within WPP will be held “accountable” for meeting commitments, set by the global inclusion council, Read added.

About one in 10 investors at the AGM opposed the WPP remuneration report and policy, which has shortened the long-term bonus scheme for top executives from five years to three years.

“It has become clear in recent years that a five-year period is poorly aligned to the business cycle and speed of change in our sector,” Quarta said.

Sir Martin Sorrell, Read’s predecessor, came under fire when he collected some huge annual payouts, including £70m in 2015 and £48m in 2016, when previous five-year schemes vested.

WPP has underperformed since then.

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