Here are the main points (drawn from his letter to Ruprecht) that Daniel Loeb wants to see implemented at Sotheby’s.
Expanded Sales and More Direct Role in Dealing
Auctions, private and internet sales all need to be reinvigorated or revamped. Sotheby’s global footprint must expand, and opportunities to exploit the Sotheby’s brand through adjacent businesses should be considered. Sotheby’s can also use its unique position and potential excess capital to judiciously take principal positions in works of art when doing so would not conflict with its clients’ interests.
Market Share Loss Not Due to Unfair Competition on Margin
We are not persuaded by management’s explanation that Sotheby’s lower market share is due to uneconomic and predatory behavior by Christie’s to secure major works. Based on discussions with market participants, it is our understanding that it has been Sotheby’s who has most aggressively competed on margin, often by rebating all of the seller’s commission and, in certain instances, much of the buyer’s premium to consignors of contested works. We believe that Sotheby’s should be competing based on the quality of its service, its expertise, and ability to generate the highest possible price for its customer.
Growth in Contemporary & Modern Art
It is apparent to us from our meeting that you do not fully grasp the central importance of Contemporary and Modern art to the Company’s growth strategy, which is highly problematic since these are the categories expanding most rapidly among new collectors. This is not to say that Sotheby’s entire portfolio of art, antique, and collectible departments is not critically important – it is. However, Sotheby’s success will be defined in large part by its ability to generate sales and profits in Contemporary and Modern art, as this is where the greatest growth potential lies. […] despite its advantages of historical superiority, a more prestigious brand, and a publicly traded currency with which it can attract, motivate and reward top talent, Sotheby’s has languished while Christie’s has thrived.