Sotheby’s Undergoes a Major Shakeup as More Top Executives Leave Under New Owner Patrick Drahi

August Uribe, one of Sotheby's most visible and longest serving staffers, is among those headed out the door.

August Uribe, ©Patrick McMullan Photo by J. Grassi/PMC

Less than six months after telecom magnate Patrick Drahi took Sotheby’s auction house private in a deal worth roughly $3.7 billion, the new owner is wasting no time making major changes at the top of the auction house.

On the eve of the VIP opening of this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach fair, chatter about a new round of departures—a mix of firings and voluntary moves under a severance agreement as part of the merger—abounded at last night’s cocktail parties and openings. One source told Artnet News that morale among Sotheby’s staffers is low amid widespread uncertainty about Drahi’s plans for the 275-year-old auction house.

After Drahi replaced Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith and CFO Mike Goss with executives from his own cable company Altice, a new wave of longtime executives—reportedly between six and 12 people—are following them out the door. Among the most notable names is August Uribe, a seasoned Impressionist art expert who joined Sotheby’s in 1991, and was most recently head of the department and vice chairman of the fine arts division in New York. Uribe is one of the longest-serving and best-known specialists at Sotheby’s. He briefly left for Phillips auction house in 2015, but returned to Sotheby’s in 2017.

Additional departures announced today include: Valentino Carlotti, executive vice president and global head of business development; Ken Citron, who was operations and chief transformation officer worldwide; Jon Auerbach who was senior vice president; Jan Prasens who was executive vice president and managing director of Europe and the Middle East; Jon Olsoff who was worldwide general counsel; Jane Levine who was chief global compliance counsel; and Karen Sutton, who was executive vice president.

Some of the departures are involuntary dismissals; others are part of a voluntary (and generous) severance program that was put in place as part of the June merger agreement for a number of employees who reported to former CEO Tad Smith, according to a proxy agreement filed in August.

Changes are happening fast, and this round is likely to be just the beginning as new leadership continues its analysis of the company. Sotheby’s new CEO Charles Stewart penned a lengthy pre-Thanksgiving email to staffers recently in which he provided details about getting up to speed on the business in his first month on the job.

“My first month was really 30 days of ‘day one experiences’ focused on meeting as many people as possible, learning and listening about our company,” he wrote in the email seen by Artnet News. Stewart estimated that he has met about one third of all 1,700 Sotheby’s employees, adding: “Don’t be surprised if you see me wandering around your area as I try to get out of my office as much as possible!”

Stewart pointed to areas beyond the fine art and the auction business as areas for potential growth, including private sales, Sotheby’s financial services, wine, “everything related to our digital efforts,” and “everything in Asia.”

He also praised the work ethic and expertise of Sotheby’s staff before zeroing in on some of the company’s biggest challenges and opportunities. The house has yet to capitalize on its data, which he described as “by far our most undervalued and underutilized asset.” And, he said,  the company remains far too siloed.

“We are a single enormously powerful brand and yet we function as if we are hundreds of small businesses,” he wrote. “This will be urgently addressed. We need to come together as ‘One Sotheby’s.'”

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