The announcement yesterday of Steven Murphy’s appoint as Christie’s new CEO caps a year of shuffling within the company. In January, Lisa King took control of operations and remains the go-to person within the company; Andy Foster moved from Asia into King’s former role; Paris was reorganized under the successful leadership of François de Ricqlès and François Curiel moved to China.
According to Kelly Crow in today’s Wall Street Journal, those moves cleared the deck enough for Artemis to begin a search for a new CEO in March: “The management change comes after a six-month search.” That means the decision to begin a search took place at the same time that the global shuffle was announced.
Let’s work back from what we’re being told in the press and what we already know about Christie’s Senior Management. There’s clearly a mandate from Artemis to increase the auction house’s ambit. This has long been the holy grail of auction house ownership but the attempts to expand into real estate and other non-auction luxury markets haven’t panned out.
Crow goes on to describe Murphy’s brief as Asia-focused and expansive:
Mr. Murphy, 56 years old, will oversee the auction house from its London headquarters and focus on expanding Christie’s sales presence in Asia. […] “I’m being asked to come in and think big.”
Some collectors have already expressed fears that Murphy’s arrival will begin a period of confusion and distracting personnel changes at the auction house. That may come to pass but seems unlikely so hard on the heels of these other changes. And since Murphy is unlikely get deeply involved in the complexities of financing consignments, it seems likely that Artemis is beginning another attempt at leveraging the global brand of an auction house into other businesses.
Murphy’s experience with properties like the South Beach Diet, which became a multi-media business with several dimensions beyond the book, may have attracted Artemis. His appointment suggests a keen desire to find other related businesses for Christie’s to enter. It wasn’t very long ago that Sotheby’s and Christie’s were differentiating themselves by claiming different parts of the art market. Sotheby’s touted its higher value
Asia and the other emerging markets are still fresh territory for the auction houses. Their name recognition and cache among the new millionaires and billionaires of the rising economies would be an obvious strategic position from which Artemis would find it too enticing not to build. Almost to confirm the renewed drive among auction houses to expand into non-art businesses, Sotheby’s today announces its retail wine business.
Christie’s Names New CEO (Wall Street Journal)