Sotheby’s Names Tad Smith as New CEO—He Was Former President and CEO of Madison Square Garden

Former sports executive named new head, Sotheby's splits chairman and CEO roles.

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

After a tumultuous year, Sotheby’s announced that its Board of Directors has concluded its CEO search and appointed Tad Smith, as president and chief executive officer, effective March 31.  Smith will also join the Sotheby’s board of directors (see The Weekly Shuffle: Regime Changes at Christie’s and Sotheby’s).

Smith, 49, was formely president and CEO of the Madison Square Garden Company (since February 2014). He oversaw the overall strategy and day-to-day operations of MSG Sports, MSG Media, and MSG Entertainment.

Sotheby’s also announced it will separate the roles of chairman and CEO and that the board has elected lead independent director Domenico De Sole (former CEO of Gucci) to succeed Ruprecht as chairman of the board.

Smith succeeds longtime CEO William Ruprecht, whose tenure came to an end after a bruising battle with activist shareholder Dan Loeb. (See Dan Loeb Triumphs, Will Join Sotheby’s Board and Sotheby’s CEO William Ruprecht Pushed Out.) The resignation was announced on November 20 though Ruprecht agreed to stay on until a successor was found.

In a conference call with investors and analysts this morning, De Sole said that Sotheby’s had embarked on “a very serious in-depth search that started in November. We interviewed a lot of great candidates and were very impressed with Tad. He’s a great strategist who really understands brands and brand building.”

Prior to MSG, Smith was president of local media at Cablevsion Systems Corporation. He worked at Reed Elsevier Group as CEO of its US business-to-business division and was also an executive at Starwood Hotels and Resorts, as well as an executive at BMG Entertainment in New York and London.

On this morning’s conference call, Smith said: “While the auction business is new to me, I think you’ll find me a quick study.” Smith said he plans to work with the Sotheby’s board to develop a five-year strategy for the company. Among the priorities he ticked off this morning were developing and implementing growth strategy, accelerating adoption of new technologies, allocating capital effectively and driving “the creation of sustainable shareholder value in the coming years.”

Christie’s also underwent a major, but apparently more sudden, shift, when news broke in early December, when most of the art world was in sunny Florida for the annual Art Basel in Miami Beach, that Christie’s CEO Steven Murphy had abruptly resigned (see Why Was Christie’s CEO Steven Murphy Fired?).

At a time when the global art market seems to be more robust than ever, it is notable that the world’s leading auction houses are nonetheless struggling with tight profit margins and continuously faced with the challenge of having to lure high-profile consignors while also being careful not to “give away the store,” as some observers have termed it.


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