Here is another good article specifically about Tim Goodman's purchase of the Sotheby's Auction house in Australia. I would expect we will hear a lot more about this in the following weeks. Stay tuned!
Fine art of a deal maker
October 3, 2009
IF YOU were looking to buy an auction house, you couldn't aim higher than Sotheby's. As prestige brands go, only arch-rival Christie's - owned by French tycoon Francois Pinault, who paid $US1.2 billion for it in 1998 - compares.
Sydney-born auctioneer Tim Goodman is no billionaire (yet), but he has long coveted the Sotheby's name - and the kudos that comes with it. Since his first encounter with Sotheby's as a 22-year-old on work experience at the auction house's fashionable London office in 1974, he has dreamed of working with the multinational.
He has gone one better. In a move that astonished the Australian auction world, Goodman this week bought the licence to Sotheby's Australia, ditching his own company, rival firm Bonhams & Goodman, in the process. The terms of the sale are confidential, but The Age believes Goodman got himself a bargain, snapping up Sotheby's Australia for a figure in the low millions.
That Goodman would so desire the name of Sotheby's says much about the circles he moves in, a world where image and status mean everything.
The selling of art on the secondary market is a trade, but it is a trade that cloaks itself in a fine cashmere coat of exclusivity and noblesse. Auctioneers are essentially salespeople - but what they sell is luxury goods, trophies for those with enough disposable cash to display a Brett Whiteley or John Brack or Albert Tucker on their wall. Auction nights are like select social events, alcohol is served - sparkling, white, red - and white-gloved assistants, generally beautiful and young, delicately bring out art works over which begins an adrenalin-pumping contest for possession. Which is not to say that people don't collect art for the passion of it, but at the highest levels it is ego and competition that keeps those bidding paddles popping up in pursuit of that rare and luscious object everyone wants.
It is no coincidence that Pinault, owner of Christie's, also controls a luxury goods group whose brands include Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and Alexander McQueen. Nor is it a coincidence that Sotheby's Australian headquarters is in the blue-chip terrain of High Street, Armadale. There is an almost geographical hierarchy in the positioning of auction houses - Bonhams & Goodman is situated in slightly less chichi territory, in Malvern Road, Prahran.
But Timothy David Goodman, 56, who has said he had visions of being "the next Kerry Packer", was never going to be satisfied being a minor player in the bullish, macho and image-conscious game of art auctioneering. Three out of four of Australia's most expensive paintings were sold at Sotheby's. The wealthiest and most conservative of art collectors, those who want to be associated with a brand oozing aristocracy and tradition, sell and buy at Sotheby's. Goodman desperately wanted a slice of that action.
He is not the first auctioneer who has made a play for Sotheby's Australia. Others have pursued the brand name - but their timing was not right. With a nose for opportunity, and wounded prey, Goodman made Sotheby's Holdings an offer too good to refuse.
He is driven, determined, autocratic, tough, a man who lives and breathes his business, whose job is his world. This week he revealed the extent of his ambition.
The news stunned the art world for two reasons. It is no secret that Sotheby's Holdings, whose headquarters is in New York, has been profoundly affected by the economic downturn. Shares and profits have plummeted (June-quarter figures showed that Sotheby's profits were down 87 per cent), and the company has been reviewing its operations and regional offices worldwide. If anything, industry observers were expecting the financially troubled Sotheby's to pull out of Australia as Christie's did in 2006. They did not expect Sotheby's to sell the licence to the brand name "Sotheby's Australia". They certainly did not expect Sotheby's to sell the brand to Tim Goodman and the other directors of First East Auction Holdings Pty Ltd.
"Obviously the culture at Sotheby's is somewhat different to what he's accustomed to," says Goodman's fiercest competitor, Rod Menzies, of leading Australian auction firm Menzies Art Brands.
Short, well-padded and ruddy-cheeked, Goodman is one of the few auctioneers in town who does not affect an Oxbridge accent. He takes to the auction stand with an affable, bossy and unashamedly Australian manner and cadence, a robust sense of humour, and a salesman's gift of persuasion.
He plays as hard as he works. By all accounts he is fond of a drink, has a keen eye for the ladies, and has been known to frequent the sorts of gentlemen's clubs where one's social class and alma mater have no bearing. Some find his character bordering on the boorish, others see it as refreshing in an industry rife with pretensions.
"He is one of those great Australian characters," says the loquacious Sydney art dealer Denis Savill. "He's like the John Singleton of the art world. That's a compliment, by the way. John's a friend of mine, but he's a wild one, and I know when to avoid him."
After his year of work experience with Sotheby's in London, a world he described as a Dickensian fantasy land, Goodman returned to Australia in 1975 and became the youngest fine art auctioneer in NSW, working for Geoff K. Gray. When Gray was bought out, Goodman lost his job and struck out on his own. After a varied and at times financially perilous career dealing in art, and running an art gallery, a jewellery auction house and even a publishing venture, Goodman established the Goodman auction rooms in the posh Sydney suburb of Double Bay in 1992.
His self-described "big break" came in 2003 when he was approached by Robert Brooks, chairman of British auction house Bonhams. For the past six years, Goodman has been the chief executive of Bonhams & Goodman auction house, which has been trying to establish itself as one of Australia's main players. But allegiances come cheap in the cut-throat world of art auctions. In buying the licence to the Sotheby's Australia name, Goodman has severed ties with Bonhams and his long-time friend Robert Brooks. Goodman will terminate the licence to use the Bonhams' name on December 22. Sentiment was never going to get in the way of Goodman's dream.
On Tuesday night, a furious Brooks was flying to Australia to sort out the mess Goodman had left him. He has launched action in the NSW Supreme Court to ensure that Goodman continues to use the Bonhams brand in Australia until December 22.
The next few months will be interesting. With three more Bonhams & Goodman auctions scheduled for the year, and two more Sotheby's auctions, where will Goodman's loyalties lie?
Meanwhile, Damian Hackett, an executive director of Deutscher and Hackett, is rubbing his hands at the thought of fewer competitors. "Yesterday I was competing with Bonhams & Goodman and Sotheby's and in the very near future we will be competing with just one of those firms, and that one firm will have quite a different nature," he says. "I will certainly bounce out of bed tomorrow morning with a renewed spring in my step.''
In the art auction world, trust is everything - and Sotheby's art specialists, such as head of Aboriginal art Tim Klingender, head of Australian paintings Georgina Pemberton, and chairman Justin Miller, come with a reputation for integrity and expertise.
Goodman himself this week spoke of his ''enormous respect for the brand, the company and the staff'', adding that "at this time" he had no plans to make any changes to staff.
But it would be naive to think that there will not be cuts, and Sotheby's Australia staff, who were only told of the takeover on Monday, are worried about their futures, and about working with a man whose managerial style is markedly different to that they know.
But something had to give at Sotheby's Australia.
"Sotheby's performance over the last 18 months suggests that it may have been under threat from its overseas masters. Tim Goodman may well be regarded as a white knight," says Sotheby's Australia's former managing director Mark Fraser.
LAST financial year, Sotheby's Australia made a profit of $1.2 million, down from 2007's $5.08 million. Its sales revenue from auctions was slashed by more than half to $24.8 million, down from $49.5 million in 2007.
But all Australian art auction houses have been doing it tough in the economic downturn. The major players, in order, are Deutscher-Menzies, Sotheby's, Deutscher & Hackett, and finally, Bonhams & Goodman. Their greatest difficulty has been competing for quality stock - in uncertain economic times collectors have been holding on to their art, unless forced to sell.
Last year the total turnover in Australian art auction sales was $114 million, down $60.9 million on 2007, a fall of almost 35 per cent. In future years, the total sales achieved in 2007 of $175.6 million may be viewed as a market aberration.
Rod Menzies, of Deutscher-Menzies, says that a contraction of the industry was necessary. "There are too many auctions houses … there is no doubt that one player had to exit this year," he says. "From an Aussie's perspective it's interesting that the two multinationals clearly no longer desire to trade here."
Is that a bad sign for the Australian art market?
"I don't know. I think there have been other issues for Sotheby's and Christie's worldwide. But it's certainly survival of the fittest. I think Tim's got a good chance of making a go of it. I am looking forward to the competition. Tim's a serious competitor and so am I."
Gabriella Coslovich is senior arts writer.