Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

07 Dec 2007, 2:03 a.m.

Question Time

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2007 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

The Wednesday night mingling happened after a talk at the Columbia business school. One of the speakers: Martin Sorrell, whom everyone called "Sir Martin" since the Queen knighted him, even though we're in the US where titles of nobility cut no ice. Supposedly it's the polite thing to do, but I wish I'd just called him "Mr. Sorrell" instead of going with the flow and calling him "Sir Martin." He's just a guy who looks like if Harlan Ellison had Christopher Hitchens's face and a broken nose. If Douglas Adams never got a "Sir" then why should this guy?

It was later pointed out to me that he's an incredibly rich guy, one who over 22 years built WPP, the leading advertising firm in the world. But I'd never heard of it or him until the professor who organized the gig started raving about his catch, and gleefully wishing one of us would have the courage to ask Sorrell about his succession plan. I volunteered, since I didn't see what would be so brave about it.

Sorrell didn't mention, but I later heard, that he's divorced and has no children. When I asked the question, he first joked that he had to leave the room, then more seriously noted that the company's succession planning had found internal candidates who would be able to run WPP, externally and internally, as well as he had.

But! Other points of his: No one will run the firm quite as he does, and that's fine. Founding and running businesses are different skillsets and it's rare to find both in one person. He felt the lust for scale, the urge to grow his business to epic heights. Starting a business is the closest a man can come to having a baby.

Hmmm. There is a stereotype that women lavish(ed) ruinous attention on their children because other avenues of self-expression and achievement are/were closed to us. But I hadn't considered the reverse.