At It Again? Dan Loeb Demands Shakeup of Sotheby’s

Third Point hedge fund manager and activist investor Daniel Loeb filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicating his interest in nominating three new members to the auction house’s board, including himself, and likely touching off a lengthy proxy fight. The filing comes hours ahead of Sotheby’s closely-watched fourth-quarter earnings report, to be released this afternoon after the 4pm stock market close, and appears designed to cause maximum controversy.

Loeb has been an outspoken critic of Sotheby’s management,especially CEO William Ruprecht; he has openly called for his resignation. Loeb owns  just under 10 percent of Sotheby’s and believes the company needs a financial overhaul to better compete with rival Christie’s. According to Loeb’s regulatory filing, he is demanding three seats on Sotheby’s board, including one for Harry Wilson (a former Yahoo board member known for his restructuring expertise) and former investment banker Olivier Reza (current head of Parisian jeweler House of Alexandre Reza).  Both are Loeb supporters.

In a statement emailed to artnet news, Sotheby’s said it is “disappointed that Third Point has chosen this path.” They added, that Sotheby’s “has engaged in extensive discussions with Third Point over the past months in an effort to reach a resolution that would avoid a proxy battle.” As part of these discussions, Sotheby’s offered to appoint Loeb to the board of directors, where he would also serve on three committees—the nominating and governance committee, the audit committee, and the finance committee. Sotheby’s said it had held six meetings with Third Point since August of last year and had had feedback from Loeb who characterized recent initiatives, such as “Capital Allocation” and “Financial Policy” plans as “the right approach.”

Sotheby’s board will hold a conference call this afternoon with investors and shareholders to discuss its fourth-quarter and full year earnings report. Investors can expect questions about Loeb’s moves to dominate the Q&A session with analysts that immediately follows  the earnings discussion. It seems likely that Loeb’s announcement was designed to coincide with this discussion.




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