Sotheby's CEO steps down

November 21 2014

Image of Sotheby's CEO steps down

Picture: FT

Sotheby's long-standing CEO Bill Ruprecht has agreed to step down. For some time now he's been in the cross hairs of Sotheby's activist investor, and recently appointed board member, Dan Loeb. The FT reports:

Bill Ruprecht, Sotheby’s chairman and chief executive, is to leave the auction house 13 months after activist investor Dan Loeb launched a blistering public campaign against his managerial style and demanded his resignation.

Sotheby’s said on Thursday that Mr Ruprecht was stepping down by mutual agreement with the board after 14 years at the helm. It added a search was under way for a successor and that Mr Ruprecht would remain in his role until a replacement was found.

Sotheby’s shares – which have fallen steadily since peaking at $53.51 in January – surged 7.4 per cent to $42.12 on the management shake-up in after-hours New York trading.

Personally, from a customer point of view, I've always found Sotheby's a well run and highly effective organisation. I've no idea, but I suppose the resignation has something to do with Christie's continued trouncing of Sotheby's, for four sales on the trot, in the all-important modern and contemporary sectors. A recent Sotheby's fanfare highlighted their highest ever sale total, $422m. But Christie's recent '$852m' contemporary sale puts that figure into stark perspective.

Of course, it's important to note that Sotheby's don't go in for guarantees in the same way Christie's does. That is, they don't give guarantor buyers an effective discount on works they succesfully bid on at auction. I think there can be little doubt that it is Christie's willingness to rely heavily on guarantees that's helping them win in the modern and contemporary sector. 

This might change with a new CEO. If I were a Sotheby's share holder (and I wish I'd bought some stock at $8 back in late 2008 - it's now at $39) I'd hope not, for the last time Sotheby's and Christie's engaged in a guarantee battle, it ended horribly for both sides.

I have no information on who might take over at Sotheby's. But I wonder if we'll see a return of the great Tobias Meyer in some capacity.

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