Adam Chinn, Prominent Sotheby’s Dealmaker, Is Out as Chief Operating Officer at the Auction House

The position is being redivided into two new posts in a structural re-shifting.

Adam Chinn. Courtesy Sotheby's.

In a significant corporate reshuffle, Sotheby’s is eliminating its position of chief operating officer. Adam Chinn, who has served in the role since February 2017, will leave the auction house at the end of the year.

Chinn will be replaced by two new hires: John Cahill as executive vice president and chief commercial officer, and Ken Citron as executive vice president of operations and chief transformation officer. Cahill is a prominent art lawyer at the firm Cahill Cossu Noh & Robinson who previously served as the general counsel at auction house Phillips. Citron has been consulting Sotheby’s since the fall, and previously served as Christie’s chief operating officer. Both will join in late January and report directly to Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith.

Chinn is known as a consummate and aggressive dealmaker. He first joined the house back in January 2016, when Sotheby’s acquired the art advisory firm Art Agency, Partners, where he was a partner. He was promoted to COO the following year. Before joining AAP, Chinn served as a co-founder of the boutique investment bank Centerview Partners LLC and spent much of his career managing mergers and acquisitions. Moving forward, there will be no relationship between Chinn and AAP, according to The Art Newspaper.

At the time of his promotion to COO, Smith said in a statement that Chinn “played a crucial role in improving our margins through superior deal-making as well as influencing better commercial decision-making throughout the company.” But guarantees have also proven turbulent for the company. Sotheby’s posted a profit loss in the second quarter of this year in no small part because of aggressive auction guarantees for top works.

Two significant guaranteed lots were identified as a drag on Sotheby’s bottom line: Modigliani’s Nu couche (sur le cote gauche) (1917), which sold for $157.2 million in May to the third-party guarantor, and Picasso’s Buste de femme de profil. Femme écrivant (1932), a portrait of Picasso’s muse Marie-Thérèse Walter, which went to auction in June. Guaranteed in-house, the painting fell short of its $45 million pre-sale estimate, selling in the end on a single bid for £27.3 million ($36 million).

Sotheby’s also announced last month a loss of $27.8 million in the third quarter of 2018, a 19 percent drop from the same period last year.

In his new position, Cahill will oversee the company’s global deal-making affairs with clients as well as its lending business. Citron will be in charge of managing the company’s logistics, services, and technology.

Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith gave a warm welcome to the new additions to his management team: “John [Cahill] and Ken [Citron] are dynamic and seasoned executives who bring both outstanding expertise in their respective fields as well as considerable art world experience to Sotheby’s. Their deep knowledge of our industry and clients will be of significant benefit to Sotheby’s customers and shareholders.”

artnet News reached out Sotheby’s for more details about the implications of the eliminated role, but did not hear back by the time of publishing. Adam Chinn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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