Credit: Dave Eastbury

'I was hopeless at exams' - Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP

The boss of the world's largest advertising firm was a prefect and captain of the cricket team, but exams did not agree with him.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 18 Aug 2016

Name: Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP

Age: 70

Which school did you go to? Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School. I was a prefect, a sergeant in the cadets and the captain of the cricket first and rugby second teams. It was a great school that was intellectually strong without being snooty. I was a weekly boarder, which gave me the best of both worlds.

What grades did you get? I passed five O levels and failed three. For A level, I studied history, geography and economics, but I ended up with six qualifications because I sat the exams with two different boards. My offer for Christ’s College, Cambridge required O level Latin, though, which I’d failed. I desperately wanted to go, so I took exams at five boards to make sure I passed second time around.

How did you handle pre-exam nerves? I was hopeless at exams. I used to get far too agitated, not pace my revision, then swot at the last minute. I was also disorganised in my answers. I’d just rush them, like a blue arsed fly. I think I’d have done better with more coursework like they have today – it’s fairer to base the grade on what you’ve done throughout the year.

What was your favourite subject? Economics. I did O level maths but not A level, so I went to Cambridge to read economics without understanding calculus. I could barely understand a word my supervisor said for three years. My lack of maths was a real problem.

What was the worst thing a teacher said about you? They said I was loquacious and, earlier, bumptious. I shouldn’t have admitted that.

What advice would you give to your teenage self? Focus on the subjects you really enjoy and get to the very best university you can. And learn code not Latin.


Return to MT's exams special page to find out how the others did.

Tags:
Leadership

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

How not to handle redundancies

It can come back to bite you if you get it wrong.

Sarah Willingham: I will never start another business again

The entrepreneur and investor on top leadership skills, pivotal career moments and Dragons' Den.

A new etiquette for video meetings

Virtual calls are not the same as in-person conversations, so we need to change the...

There's opportunity in this recession

A Schumpeterian view of closing businesses.

Is it okay to spy on my staff if I think they're slacking ...

Everything you wanted to know about employee surveillance but were afraid to ask.

The psychology of remote working

In depth: The lockdown has proven that we can make working from home work, but...