While companies may gain a temporary boost from mergers and acquisitions, they often fail to translate that into long-term value and competitive advantage. WPP, one of the most successful companies listed in the UK, is a company that has grown primarily through acquisitions, but the strength of its results demonstrate that its acquisitions are within the minority of such activity that creates significant and sustained value.
Anthony Hilton, of the London Evening Standard, points to WPP’s success as an example of how to drive productivity within an organisation. Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP’s founder and CEO, has written about some of the means by which this has been achieved. In a recent article for the Harvard Business Review, he describes the investment in people – through graduate and management training, secondment schemes and effective incentives – in property and in shared services that allow WPP to capitalise on its scale.
A focus on long term investment in the assets of the business, and a determination to leverage every possible efficiency whilst not compromising on quality of client service, may seem like an obvious ethos from which to drive long term growth. However, the pressures on modern management teams too often result in a focus on short-term goals over sustainable results. A successful long-term strategy requires doing the right thing each year, to deliver results that year and in future years.
For a company as large and complex as WPP – and WPP comprises 4,000 reporting units across 113 countries – that requires deep insight into the drivers of revenue, margin growth and cash generation across operating unit, geography, business sector and client. It also demands reliable management forecasts at all levels of the business, to ensure investment in those areas that will deliver the maximum contribution to the company’s strategic goals.
Ultimately, it is essential that management are able to quickly and easily understand the financial impact of decisions taken at all levels of the company, and across the P&L, cashflow and balance sheet, to ensure they are aligned to achievement of the Group’s targets.
Solving this challenge is at the foundation of long-term success for large group and services businesses. At our next Tomorrow’s CFO Seminar, WPP Group Financial Controller David Barker, who has worked with Sir Martin Sorrell at WPP for over thirty years, will be discussing how he has used and continues to use analytics and data to promote growth and value, helping grow WPP from a £2m market cap to £22bn over 30 years.
The event promises to offer some fascinating insights into the present and future of successful global management. Finance professionals of all kinds are welcome, but places are strictly limited, so if you would like to attend, please click here to reserve your seat.