The bad blood between WPP and its former country manager in Italy spilled into the open on Tuesday even as the executive, Marco Benatti, moved to bid for all the shares of a company in which he and WPP have a stake.
Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP’s chief executive, dismissed Mr Benatti from his post, formally described as a consultant’s position, on January 9, ending an alliance between the men that dated back to the 1990s.
WPP also appointed three law firms; Kroll, the security company; and Deloitte, the accountants; to look into transactions in Italy.
Mr Benatti responded on Tuesday by accusing Sir Martin of “brutal and unjustified behaviour” that “has destroyed – in a mere 21 days – the leadership position” of WPP in Italy.
Mr Benatti said he was dismissed after a “leadership problem” developed between him and Daniela Weber, WPP’s chief operating officer in Italy. He said Sir Martin resolved the dispute by siding with Ms Weber.
WPP said: “The facts will speak for themselves. No replacement has been made for Mr Benatti, although Paul Richardson, WPP’s group financial director and a member of
the board of WPP Italy, has been appointed acting country manager. Mr Benatti appointed the chief operating officer of WPP Italy himself, some six years ago. The suggestion that these matters concern style and management philosophy are an attempt to divert attention from the facts.”
The war of words broke out as Mr Benatti pressed ahead with a proposal that could put him and WPP back at the bargaining table.
Mr Benatti said he would bid for control of Fullsix, an Italian marketing services company that is 26 per cent owned by WPP. Mr Benatti bought 6.06 per cent more of Fullsix on Monday to increase his stake to 41 per cent, triggering a mandatory offer.
WPP’s investigation in Italy was paying special attention to the company’s acquisition of Media Club, an advertising buyer, in November 2002. It was understood Mr Benatti introduced Media Club to WPP in his capacity as a consultant and was paid a £140,000 ($249,680) fee.
At the time of the deal, WPP was assured that Mr Benatti did not have an interest in Media Club. WPP later was understood to have uncovered evidence he did.