Sotheby’s Refuses to Disclose Executive Bonuses

Sotheby’s auction house is refusing to disclose to government regulators how much its executives receive in bonuses.  They defend the refusal by noting that if Christie’s (which as a private corporation does not have to disclose the same information) were to learn the bonuses, they could lure away these executives.  Any follower of the art trade will hardly be surprised by the hesitancy to disclose this information, but Jeremy Telman at the Contracts Prof blog outlines pokes three holes in Sotheby’s argument:

1. Sotheby’s and Christie’s are undoubtedly at the top of the heap in the art dealing industry.  Based on my circle of acquaintances, which includes many unemployed or underemployed artists, art curators and art experts, it seems likely to me that Sotheby’s and Christie’s benefit from being in a buyer’s market when it comes to hiring executives.  If both companies under-compensated their executives, where would those executives go?  And if they left, so what?  Couldn’t Sotheby’s and Christie’s easily find highly competent replacements who would work on paint fumes just for the honor of getting those great auction houses on their resumes?
2. But even if I’m wrong about that, if Christie’s were really interested in luring executives away from Sotheby’s, couldn’t they just ask the executives about what sort of compensation package it would take to motivate them to move?  Is there a number one rule of Sotheby’s Club that you don’t talk about Sotheby’s Club?
3. In any case, didn’t Sotheby’s waive its right to whine about the hassles of disclosure when it went public?

Daniel Wakin, Sotheby’s Keeps Its Executive Bonus Plan Under Wraps – ArtsBeat Blog – NYTimes.com.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

3 thoughts on “Sotheby’s Refuses to Disclose Executive Bonuses”

  1. Thanks for posting this, Derek. I missed it. It surely undescores the fragile position of the big fine art auction houses and the growing need for some kind of market regulation. This issue was pretty high up on the discussion agenda at the recent Deloitte art market symposium here in London during Frieze week. It’s absurd that the existence of a privately-owned auction house (Christie’s) is cited by a publicly-quoted company (Sotheby’s) as a legitimate cause for lack of disclosure of critical financial information. Surely another reason Sotheby’s is reluctant to open the kimnono is that it would expose them to criticism for excessively rewarding top executives while laying off staff elsewhere during a tough economic climate.
    Best,
    Tom

  2. Tom,
    I agree with you on the need for some form of market regulation or at the very least increased transparency in art dealings. However, to play devil’s advocate, it seems excessive to accuse Sotheby’s of underhanded or corrupt behavior for wishing to avoid disclosure of the disposition of funds, when its only major competitor is able to keep such dealings private. While Christie’s is privately owned it is the only other auction house with a comparable market share to Sotheby’s and it seems reasonable to expect that a comparison between the two would come up when a significant imposition is imposed on one and not the other. If you can think of another reason Christie’s might be brought up I’d be very interested to know.

    Regards,

    Aaron

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