Now WPP boss Mark Read is caught up in the Saudi murder fall-out as it’s revealed his firm is at the centre of the controversial ‘Davos in the Desert’ conference
- ‘Davos in the Desert’ was organised by a company half-owned by WPP
- HSBC and Ford were among businesses that pulled out of the Saudi event following the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi
- FTSE 100-listed WPP last night came in for fierce criticism
Link: A firm half-owned by WPP staged last week’s Davos in the Desert, snubbed by IMF boss Christine Lagarde, above, with the Saudi leader at last year’s event
Embattled WPP boss Mark Read came under renewed pressure last night as it emerged that his firm is at the centre of a controversial Saudi Arabian conference.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that last week’s Future Investment Initiative, known as ‘Davos in the Desert’, was organised by a company half-owned by WPP.
The annual Riyadh event is organised by Richard Attias and Associates, in which WPP has a 49 per cent stake.
However, sources close to WPP have distanced Read from the conference – which the company itself chose not to send representatives to – and sought to shift the blame on to the previous chief executive, Sir Martin Sorrell.
JPMorgan, HSBC, Ford and Siemens were among businesses that pulled out of the Saudi event following the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
FTSE 100-listed WPP last night came in for fierce criticism. Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said: ‘They are playing a high risk game with their reputation just to earn a quick quid from a regime that is clearly tottering because of its outrageous behaviour.’
Asked about the firm’s links to the Future Investment Initiative, Read said he was ‘monitoring the situation very carefully’, adding that WPP is a ‘minority investor’ in Richard Attias and Associates.
A source close to the firm pointed out that WPP first invested in the firm under Sorrell in 2013. ‘This is indicative of the disparate nature of WPP’s global portfolio of investments built up under Sorrell which Read now has to address,’ he said.
Read is trying to offload some of these stakes and has raised £704 million by selling off 16 investments. It has been a brutal week for Read who has seen WPP’s share price fall 15 per cent after he unveiled disappointing sales figures.
Read has criticised the state of the business he inherited, saying WPP had been ‘too slow to adapt, become too complicated and have underinvested in core parts of our business’.
He added: ‘I’m focused on giving WPP the simplified structure to turn around the underperformance of the last two years.’ Sorrell quit WPP in April after a mysterious board inquiry into allegations against him. It was later reported he had been accused of paying for a prostitute on company expenses – a claim he strongly denies.