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Auction House Owners Shuffled Again in Australia’s Volatile Market

Only one year after it was issued, a ten-year license to use the Sotheby’s name in Australia has been resold to a consortium of five investors headed by Geoffrey Smith, formerly senior curator at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

SYDNEY—Only one year after it was issued, a ten-year license to use the Sotheby’s name in Australia has been resold to a consortium of five investors headed by Geoffrey Smith, formerly senior curator at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Sydney auctioneer Tim Goodman, 59, who had acquired the license in November 2009, has agreed to sell the license to the Sotheby’s Australia name to the investors, who like Smith are key members of existing management and shareholders in Goodman’s 65 percent–owned First East Australian Auctions Pty. Ltd., which controlled the license through a subsidiary.

Goodman told ARTnewsletter that he was selling because he wanted to spend more time with his family after 40 years in the industry, and after what was an exciting and tumultuous year.

He had originally acquired the license and assumed chairmanship of Sotheby’s Australia in pursuit of his ambition to own a stake in a global leader in the industry, dating back to the 1970s when he was a porter in suburban Sydney auction house F.R. Strange.

Goodman said he was satisfied with the financial and other terms of the deal, which also had the approval of Sotheby’s in the U.S. However, the year had been “taxing,” he said.

He did not elaborate, but the decision by Sotheby’s international board to accept his proposal to switch from a fully fledged subsidiary to licensing the Sotheby’s name in Australia was followed by an exodus of specialists from the existing Sotheby’s operation and from Bonhams and Goodman, which had acquired it. All of this took place against the backdrop of a market shrunken by the global financial crisis.

Sotheby’s Australia also unexpectedly lost the $15million Owston Collection to Bonhams. Meanwhile, Bonhams, which suffered a setback in its plans to develop its global operation through Goodman’s, vigorously pursued its own independent operation in Australia with a full coterie of specialists in Sydney.

The businesses which had been formed from the old Sotheby’s Australian operation and Bonhams and Goodman were trading profitably, Goodman said. However, he appreciated the concerns that some had expressed about the lack of cash returns from these businesses.

The concerns became public in November, when directors of Mowbray Collectables Ltd., a major investor in the business and one of the shareholders in the transferred license, said in a report to the New Zealand Stock Exchange that they were also worried about the amount of debt the company was carrying.

Goodman is left with a 65 percent holding in the long-established Melbourne auction house Leonard Joel’s, and will still conduct auctions for Sotheby’s Australia.

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