I-MAGAZINE Spends An Evening With Orlando Rock, Chairman, Christie’s Auction House

How did you first become involved in the auction industry?

My introduction to the art world was by involuntary osmosis. My father had developed an almost obsessive interest in country house sales and antique shops – with some of my earliest memories being squashed between bubble-wrap and blankets in the back of a Volvo estate car, with yet another architectural fragment or Kentian table vying for space. And rather like Stockholm syndrome, I gradually became fascinated by the English country house, the romance of objects and their past histories, whom they were made for and where they had been since……Once captivated, it is a disease that you cannot shake – and after graduating in history and history of art at University, I went to go and talk to my aesthetic hero, Christopher Gibbs about what my next step in the art world should be. He sent me to Christie’s in King Street and I have never looked back since.

How passionate about the auction industry are you?

After almost 30 years, it is admittedly the only world I know.  But I cannot imagine any other industry where you spend your days with sublime works of art, magical houses and fascinating people – both within Christie’s and beyond – many of whom have achieved extraordinary success in their own respective fields and yet who collect passionately and knowledgeably in pursuit of a their very personal passion. And behind all the theatre and razzmatazz, there is passion, erudition, teamwork, expertise, thirst for knowledge and an ever-evolving educational journey taken with artists, curators, restorers and collectors across the globe. Never a dull moment!  

Did Christie’s suffer at all in the financial crisis that started in 2008? And have things got better for Christie’s since then?

Although the financial crisis of 2008 was seismic, the art market proved to be remarkably resilient – and indeed it is difficult to forget that record-breaking £100 million Damien Hirst auction took place on the very same day Lehman collapsed!

Looking back over our 2008 Full Year figures release, we noted that despite the economic turmoil in the second half of 2008, Christie’s completed the year with £2.8 billion in sales, continued profitability, and a record of offering great quality works to clients around the world.  We had market leadership across the globe in Impressionist and Modern Art, Asian Art, and Jewellery due to our ability to offer the best expert advice to our clients and market their property globally, employing the most sophisticated, innovative and compelling strategies. The diversity of our auction business across regions as well as in other areas such as private sales, Christie’s Education and what was then known as ‘Christie’s Great Estates’, now known as Christie’s International Real Estate, continued to introduce an unprecedented number of collectors to Christie’s and contributed significantly to Group profit in difficult economic times.

Over the last decade, we have enjoyed a dominant market leadership position and the 2018 full year figures confirmed Christie’s continued global art market leadership position, as well as  announcing the highest art sales total in company history. 2018 sales totalled £5.3 billion, an increase of 3% on 2017 and were led by the historic Rockefeller sale, the most significant collection ever sold at auction. Global auction sales rose 3% to £4.7 billion with sell through rates by lot increasing to 82%, a reflection of a continued focus on carefully edited and estimated sales. 32% of all buyers in 2018 were new to Christie’s with spend by this group increasing by 20% across regions and price points. The top categories for attracting new buyers were Luxury sales (32%) and Post-War and Contemporary Art sales (16%). The demand for works over £10 million continued with 67 works sold at this level during the year, up from 65 in 2017.

What do you think the fundamentals of leadership are?

I think the fundamentals of leadership in a people business like Christie’s are clarity of vision and communication allied to a profound understanding of the market we operate in – alongside integrity, drive and human empathy…. Like all businesses, we succeed when we are a team working together.

What is your leadership style?

I strongly believe in collaborative teamwork and empowering others to fulfil their potential.

Do you still have the same passion for the business as you did when your first started at the company?

I definitely do…

The rest of this editorial will be published at a later date