How I Got My Art Job: Phillips’s Michael Sherman on Moving From the Mayor’s Office to the Auction House
A cold email to a former Christie's CEO was the key to his big art-world break.
From fabricators to mummy conservators to private collection managers, the art world is full of fascinating jobs you may not have realized even existed. In artnet News’s column “My Art Job,” we delve into these enviable art-world occupations, asking insiders to share their career path and advice for others who wish to follow in their footsteps.
This week, we spoke with Michael Sherman, chief communications officer for Phillips auction house.
Education: Bachelor of Science degree from the college of Business and Administration at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
How I got the job I have now: I was working at Christie’s real estate division, and I felt a little bit like Cinderella who wasn’t allowed to go to the ball—I really wanted to get to the art side! Then, I read an article about what Ed Dolman was doing at Philips. Ed was CEO of Christie’s for many years, and everyone I talked to said glowing things about him. So I just sent him an email that said, “Sounds like you’re doing amazing things over there, and I would love to meet!” Ed agreed, we had a lovely conversation, one thing led to another, and he made me the offer.
How I transitioned to the art world: I spent many years working for Mike Bloomberg. I started out as a reporter at Bloomberg News, and left after six years there. When he became mayor of New York, I joined his administration as a press secretary working on economic development. I spent a total of ten years with Mike, which was extraordinary, and then I slowly migrated to the art world.
How I didn’t let my college major hold me back: I studied finance and accounting in school. When I graduated, I realized I didn’t want to do finance or accounting, and that I had fallen in love with reading and writing. So I became a financial reporter on the media and entertainment beat at Bloomberg, and my accounting background helped me write all kinds of financial stories. I always say, to have any kind of understanding of the world, understand money. Finance and accounting are very good skills to have.
My favorite part of my job: At my core, I always think of myself as a writer. I still write a lot of the press releases and internal announcements. I like thinking about how to convey what it is we’re trying to accomplish as a company.
What my typical day looks like: Well, it begins with total bedlam as my wife and I try to corral my eight-month-old daughter while getting my seven-year-old son ready for school. Then it’s reading a few major newspapers and art trades, followed by meetings and phone calls with our specialists around the world to find out what’s in the pipeline for upcoming auctions.
Percentage of the day I spend sending emails: Email is certainly a big part of my day, as I wake up to a bevy of emails from our teams in Hong Kong, London, and other parts of the world. But I find that nothing beats face-to-face interaction. I spend a great deal of time meeting with our specialists and my PR team to figure out how best to promote the extraordinary works of art and design pieces that pass through Phillips every day.
My most influential mentor: Mike Bloomberg told me that there might be people smarter than him, but there will never be anyone who has ever outworked him. I thought that was a good lesson in how to succeed professionally: If you work hard, good things will happen.
Advice for those who want my job: Reading is critical to doing the job of PR. I interview a lot of young people and I always ask them what they read. If I don’t get an answer that sounds like they actually read a lot, I don’t hire them. I want to know that you read several newspapers a day.
One thing I wish I could tell my 22-year-old self: You don’t have to come out of college and know exactly what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. I never thought I’d end up in the art world, and I’m so grateful I have. Just because you got a degree in something doesn’t mean you can’t veer off. If something interests you, see where it leads.
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