Edward Dolman: 'Death, Debt, and Divorce'

By Smith, Richard M. | Newsweek, February 22, 2010 | Go to article overview

Edward Dolman: 'Death, Debt, and Divorce'


Smith, Richard M., Newsweek


Byline: Richard M. Smith

The CEO of Christie's on what drives the art market--even in a downturn.

Sotheby's $104.3 million sale of the Alberto Giacometti statute Walking Man I this month showed that despite the recession, the art market is far from dead. As the head of Sotheby's archrival, Christie's CEO Edward Dolman couldn't agree more. Dolman joined Christie's, the venerable London-based auction house, as a porter before becoming a furniture expert and auctioneer. As CEO since 1999, he's led Christie's expansion as the art market has gone global. In the latest in his series of interviews as part of NEWSWEEK's partnership with the Kaplan University M.B.A. program, NEWSWEEK chairman Richard M. Smith spoke with Dolman about the challenges of selling artwork during a recession. Edited excerpts:

Smith: What did you learn as a porter? Dolman: As a porter, you're a neutral observer between the specialists, the experts, the business getters, the dealers, and the collectors. You're moving around almost anonymously in this world, picking up the way people discuss things, what motivates people, how the dealers work, how our specialists think. And of course, I learned exactly how much antique furniture weighs.

How challenging was it when you shifted to running the business? It was enormous, frankly. I had started work at Christie's because I loved art. I loved economics as well--this was a perfect blend. But I had to discover the vocabulary and mechanics of running a business, which I had no idea about at all. I enrolled in some business-school classes, and I went to the Institute of Directors in London and did a course in company direction, which was absolutely fantastic--it gave me the tools and the vocabulary.

As you were coming up, do you recall saying, "If I were running this department, I would never do it that way"? Yes. Here's an example. When people started at Christie's in the late '70s or early '80s, they were given a certain amount of pencils they could use. And they had to take each pencil back after it had gone down to a certain size, and then they would issue you a new pencil. There was this fascination with the minutia of cost control, while people completely ignored the big picture in the broader market.

During the recession, Christie's sales have declined from more than $6abillion to less than $3abillion. How do you manage that? We prepare ourselves for it. …

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