New Sotheby’s Owner Patrick Drahi Replaces CEO Tad Smith With a Trusted Turnaround Wizard

New CEO Charles Stewart was most recently CFO of Drahi's company Altice USA.

Charles F. Stewart has been appointed CEO at Sotheby's, replacing Tad Smith. Image courtesy Sotheby's.
Charles F. Stewart has been appointed CEO at Sotheby's, replacing Tad Smith. Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Sotheby’s new owner, Patrick Drahi, is wasting no time making big changes at the auction house. The company announced today that CEO Tad Smith has been removed from his role, effective immediately, and will be replaced by Charles Stewart, the CFO of Altice USA, a cable television company owned by Drahi. The parting appears not to be acrimonious: sources say Smith was offered the chance to stay on but opted to stick around only until the deal was finalized.

Stewart has served as co-president and CFO of Altice USA since 2016. Before that, he worked in the finance sector for more than 20 years, including as CEO of Itau BBA International, an international bank, and as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley based in New York, Brazil, and London. During his tenure at Altice, Stewart helped lead the company’s hefty $2.1 billion IPO; oversaw the launch of a4, Altice’s advertising platform; and, perhaps most significantly, helped manage the much talked-about acquisition of Cheddar, a digital-first news organization catering to millennials, for $200 million.

“Charlie is a talented executive who brings years of international experience to Sotheby’s,” Drahi said in a statement. “I have known him for many years and have been impressed by his appetite for innovation, taking smart risks, and challenging the status quo. He has a proven record of driving growth and is ideally positioned to create value for Sotheby’s clients and our outstanding team.”

In his statement, Drahi also thanked Smith—who will become a shareholder of the company and act as a senior advisor to Stewart—for his leadership over the past four and a half years. “Sotheby’s reached a new level of success during his tenure and I am delighted we will continue to benefit from his experience in an advisory capacity,” Drahi said. The parting appears not to be acrimonious: sources say Smith was offered the chance to stay on, but opted to stick around only until the deal was finalized.

Sotheby's CEO Tad Smith. Photo courtesy Sotheby's.

Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith. Photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

Smith joined Sotheby’s in March 2015 from Madison Square Garden, where he served as president and CEO. He arrived at the company after it had undergone a bruising proxy fight instigated by hedge-fund manager Dan Loeb, who had blamed former CEO Bill Ruprecht for the auction house’s lagging stock price.

Under Smith’s leadership, the house made moves to transform itself into an attractive acquisition target, including by acquiring numerous other niche businesses such as forensic analytics company Orion, image-recognition startup Thread Genius, data analysis service Mei Moses, and, most notably, the art advisory Art Agency Partners, which Sotheby’s bought for $50 million in early 2016.

BidFair USA, a company entirely owned by the French-Israeli telecom magnate Patrick Drahi, acquired Sotheby’s in a $3.7 billion deal announced this past spring. The acquisition was finalized several weeks ago and the stock was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

Under the terms of the deal, Sotheby’s shareholders each received $57 in cash for each share of Sotheby’s common stock. The total cash payout to stockholders amounted to around $2.58 billion, according to the SEC filings—including $28 million for Smith.

Some Sotheby’s-watchers suspected that it was only a matter of time until Drahi installed his own ally in the corner office. Mere days after the sale was completed earlier this month, news surfaced that both CFO Mike Goss and executive vice president and chief commercial officer John Cahill were leaving the company. In their place, Jean-Luc Berrebi—who previously served as CEO of Drahi’s family office—took over as CFO.


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