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Alex Webb

The Tiny Company That Spawned a Global Media Empire Gets the Ax

The business that spawned WPP is on the block. There’s no room for sentimentality under new CEO Mark Read.

A funny way to start a media empire.

A funny way to start a media empire.

Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Who even knew that WPP Plc still made wire baskets?

It’s the basis for a good pub trivia question: former Chief Executive Officer Martin Sorrell built the world’s largest ads company by seeking out a publicly traded business where he could acquire control on the cheap, then use it as a deal-making vehicle to expand. The company he found was Wire and Plastic Products, a maker of wire baskets. In 1985, he bought a controlling stake, and over the subsequent 33 years expanded it into a 16-billion-pound global advertising player.