The Ideas Exchange brings together WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell and Bharti founder Sunil Mittal

We had a £1 million shell company we took control of and then we made 18 acquisitions in 18 months.Sir Martin Sorrell
Date: 03.09.2012     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.01
Category: BBC World News
BBC World News’ new eight-part series, The Ideas Exchange, pairs up business leaders from around the world to debate today’s business landscape and their secrets to success.

The second episode travels to London, UK to introduce WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell to Sunil Mittal, founder of Bharti Airtel, one of the largest telecommunications and business groups in India.

Sir Martin Sorrell invested in British company, Wire and Plastic Products (WPP) in 1985. The company made shopping baskets for supermarkets, but this wasn’t the attraction. WPP in fact, provided a vehicle for an ambitious acquisition strategy. He led the acquisition of advertising-related companies including major coups such as takeover of J. Walter Thompson and acquisition of Ogilvy & Mather. Today, he leads one of the world's largest marketing, and advertising groups with 115,000 employees.

Sorrell says of his investment in WPP: “Well we started off we had a £1 million shell company we took control of and then we made 18 acquisitions in 18 months.

“I always wanted to do things on scale and complexity. There are people who are good at starting things and there are people good at managing things and there are very rarely people who can do both. I wanted to do both so I always wanted to build a big international company.”

“We like to keep it messy, because I think the 21st century is not for tidy minds. Having said that there really are 12 businesses inside WPP, so when we make these acquisitions they get consolidated into one of those 12 businesses - so they’re not loose atoms floating around. There is a method to this madness.”

Sunil Mittal started from scratch as a teenager making bicycle parts, but he had ambitions to do something more adventurous and started importing generators from Japan, before moving on to importing telecoms equipment and then bidding for India’s first mobile phone licence. Mittal now runs the fifth largest mobile phone network in the world, Bharti Airtel.

Mittal has strong views on how business deals should be done: “For me relationship is very important. I can lose money but I cannot lose a relationship. The test is at the end of a conversation or a negotiation both must smile.

"Neither party should laugh because if one is laughing the other has to necessarily be in trouble. We have to have a win, win situation, which I call smiles on both sides.”

Talking about his expansion into the mobile phone market in Africa, he said: “This is the last frontier. This is the biggest untapped potential that is left in the world. You can see everybody is focusing on it. Africa is on the rise. You have to be patient. You have to be long term - and now Africa is being talked about, it will happen.”

The Ideas Exchange, sponsored by HSBC, airs weekly on BBC World News on Saturdays at 02.30 and 15.30 GMT and Sundays at 09.30 and 21.30 GMT. Visit: www.bbc.com/exchangingideas

For more information contact:

Jessica Culshaw, BBC World News, +44 (0) 7718696636 or email: Jessica.Culshaw@bbc.co.uk