Ruprecht’s Reign

The Wall Street Journal gives Sotheby’s CEO Bill Ruprecht a victory lap this morning ahead of the anticipated success of The Scream. The story has a number of interesting tidbits though several hedged in odd ways:

  • Mr. Ruprecht says. “Europe today is a net seller of art as opposed to a net acquirer. Europe has moved very much to selling,” he says. In 2011 alone, Sotheby’s sourced roughly 50% of its world-wide business from European clients. Over the same period, Europeans accounted for about 30% of world-wide purchases.
  •  “Last December, we had a $19 million online bid in one of our antiquity sales. In our wine sales, 40% to 50% of sales are being bought online. A third of our Web content is being consumed out of China. It’s amazing.”
  • Five years ago, Greater China represented 4% or 5% of Sotheby’s global commerce. Last year, that figure was closer to a third, Mr. Ruprecht says.

One odd bit of reasoning on the Journal’s part is counting the price-fixing-crisis-era move to sell Sotheby’s headquarters building in New York as a success for the firm even though it cost the company $200 million:

After Mr. Ruprecht took over, Sotheby’s slashed operating costs, reduced headcount and, in 2003, sold its Manhattan headquarters for $175 million. […] At the height of the financial crisis, Sotheby’s saw year-to-year sales drops of more than 60%, Mr. Ruprecht says. Auction sales fell to $2.3 billion in 2009 from $4.9 billion the previous year. “That period was frightening,” he recalls. “[…] In the worst sales-deterioration periods we were able to stay cash-positive and profitable, which was remarkable,” he says. The firm weathered the storm and, as proof, bought back its Manhattan headquarters in 2008 for about $370 million.

Sotheby’s Eastern Advantage (Wall Street Journal)