Martin Sorrell, founder and CEO of the advertising giant WPP, was Fortune’s featured guest at a dinner in London last night. The U.S., the U.K., and China are WPP’s biggest markets, giving Sorrell a close view of developments in all three. His take: political volatility in the U.K. and the U.S. have handed China “an incredible opportunity to exercise greater influence, politically, socially and economically” in the world.
In an interview with me during the dinner, Sorrell said neither the Conservative Party nor the Labour Party manifestos in the U.K. election gave business any reason for optimism. They are both “treating business more as regulated utilities,” he said. And uncertainty over Brexit is also a damper on business.
As for the U.S., Sorrell, who is active in the Business Roundtable and the Business Council, said the Trump administration has been far more open to business than the Obama administration. But self-inflicted set-backs are squandering the opportunity for action. “Because they control the House and the Senate, they should, in theory, be able to” pass pro-business legislation, he said. “But of course, there are all the missteps we’re seeing.”
“All of this presents a tremendous opportunity for China; a tremendous opportunity,“ Sorrell said. In particular, he said many Chinese Internet companies, and particularly e-commerce companies, have moved “way in advance” of what he sees at “legacy companies” in the West: “This sort of feeling that we in the West are more sophisticated is very, very misplaced.”
The London dinner was part of the run-up to the Fortune Global Forum, which is being held in Guangzhou December 6-8. You can find more information here.
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