Nathan Drahi, the 26-year-old son of Sotheby’s owner Patrick Drahi, has been appointed as the new managing director of the auction house’s Asia market center. He will oversee day to day operations there and report directly to Sotheby’s CEO Charles Stewart. Sotheby’s long-time Asia CEO Kevin Ching Sau-hong retires at the end of 2021, concluding a 15-year tenure with the house.
Patrick Drahi, the French billionaire who owns the European telecommunications company Altice, took Sotheby’s private in 2019 deal where he paid $3.7 billion. After the acquisition, Sotheby’s appointed Stewart, the former chief financial officer of Altice U.S., as the new CEO replacing Tad Smith.
Sotheby’s new executive team took over during a difficult time for the auction industry, as the bulk of in-person sales were canceled due to coronavirus restrictions. Sotheby’s global auctions sales fell by 27 per cent in 2020. Last May, in a teleconference led by Sotheby’s executives, the auction house’s elusive owner addressed the challenges in the press conference, his first in five years, assuring the public that the worst of the crisis appeared to be over: “We have crossed the desert and we see now that we are much stronger than ever.”
Since then, Sotheby’s has reported strength in Asia, with auction sales in the region reaching $932 million for 2020—20 percent of its total global sales. Buyers from the region won 9 of the top 20 lots sold in 2020 as well. The “number of Asian clients bidding online is growing faster than anywhere else in the world,” the release for the house’s annual report said—“more than doubling in 2020.”
The younger Drahi, who previously worked at J. P. Morgan and the London-based private equity firm BC Partners, joined Sotheby’s in June 2020 as a commercial officer in the Hong Kong office. Despite his short time with the auction house, he has witnessed at least one milestone. In June, during a Hong Kong modern art evening sale, a 1950 Sanyu painting featuring four reclining nude women hammered at HKD $225 million ($29 million), going to Drahi’s telephone bidder. The final price of $33 million set the record as the artist’s second-most expensive painting by Sanyu ever auctioned.
The growth in Asia and the virtual push during the pandemic are among the many shifts that occurred in the auction industry over the year. “I am more of a manager of the old world,” Ching said in a statement published by South China Morning Post. “Nathan is from a totally different world. Looking at where Sotheby’s is going and how he loves being in Asia, he should be the person to take the company forward.”
According to Sotheby’s statement, Ching will continue to mentor Drahi throughout the year and transition into his role as chairman emeritus at Sotheby’s.