(Bloomberg) -- Martin Sorrell confronted the central allegation that triggered his exit from the world’s biggest advertising group, WPP Plc, saying he didn’t use company funds to pay for sex.
The 73-year-old executive addressed the issue directly for the first time in an on-stage conversation with New Yorker writer Ken Auletta at the Cannes Lions ad industry festival in southern France. Previous denials to the accusation, which was reported by the Wall Street Journal, came from a Sorrell spokesman.
“We dealt with that. Dealt with it by strenuously denying it,” Sorrell said. Auletta asked: “So it’s not true?” Sorrell replied: “It’s not true.”
Sorrell signed a non-disclosure agreement before quitting in April and WPP hasn’t provided details of the allegation, saying they are protected by data protection laws.
The former chief executive has come out fighting after his unceremonious exit from the company he built over three decades -- launching a new advertising company, publicly handing out advice to WPP’s board on future strategy and suggesting who should replace him as CEO.
He has also called upon WPP to find out who leaked news of an internal investigation into allegations against Sorrell of personal misconduct and misuse of company funds. Sorrell has denied any wrongdoing at WPP.
Asked whether he had any regrets about the last 12 months, Sorrell focused on his track record as a manager, saying he should have done more to break down silos between WPP’s different businesses and make the company more focused on serving its clients.
He played down the idea that he would use his knowledge of advertising to turn his new venture S4 Capital into a major competitor to his former employer.
But he said the provider of marketing services and advertising technology, launched less than two months after he left WPP, would have the financial firepower to make a difference in the industry.
S4 Capital has raised 51 million pounds, of which Sorrell contributed 40 million. Some institutional investors in S4 have indicated they are willing to provide a further 150 million pounds.
“We will have access to what we need,” said Sorrell. “There are plenty of people you can partner with.”
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