UK business executive and founder of the advertising agency WPP, the vehicle for the hostile takeovers of two brand-name US companies: J Walter Thompson (JWT) in 1987, the first acquisition of a quoted US advertising agency by a foreign rival, and the Ogilvy & Mather Group in 1989, for nearly $900 million. In 2000 Sorrell acquired US marketing group Young & Rubicam (Y&R) for $4.7 billion, which included three advertising agencies, the public relations firms Burston-Marsteller and Hill & Knowlton, and high-profile accounts with brand names such as IBM and Ford. It was the largest advertising takeover in history, and made WPP the world's largest marketing services group, with the means to offer the full range of marketing and communication services to clients under one roof. Sorrell was knighted in 2000, and by 2008 the Sunday Times ‘Rich List’ valued his worth at £106 million.
In the early 1990s Sorrell faced a financial crisis. Heavily indebted after buying JWT, he had taken on more debt by buying Ogilvy & Mather with cash and convertible shares. When the advertising market collapsed during the recession, WPP's share price crashed and Sorrell almost went bankrupt. He was forced to surrender part of his equity to his banks but held onto his job and rebuilt the company.
Sorrell was educated at Haberdashers' Aske's School. The only child of a prosperous electronics retailer, he originally intended to join his father's business. However, after he graduated from Christ's College, Cambridge (in economics) and Harvard Business School (with an MBA), he joined marketing consultants Glendenning Associates in Connecticut in 1968. He was vice president of the Mark McCormack Organization in London from 1970 to 1974 and a director of James Gulliver Associates from 1975 until he joined Saatchi & Saatchi in 1977. He left Saatchi in 1986 and acquired Wire & Plastic Products (a manufacturer of wire baskets for supermarkets), which he built into the advertising agency WPP.