Sotheby's chief William F. Ruprecht stepping down

Following rocky period, including battle with Daniel Loeb, Sotheby's CEO William F. Ruprecht stepping down

After a 14-year leadership tenure that had turned rocky in recent months, William F. Ruprecht will be stepping down as the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Sotheby's, the art auction giant announced on Thursday.

Ruprecht is stepping down "by mutual agreement with the board," according to a release from Sotheby's. He will stay with the company until a successor is in place.

Ruprecht has recently come under fire from activist investor Daniel Loeb, who called for Ruprecht's ouster after criticizing his leadership. Third Point LLC, the hedge fund that Loeb runs, is one of the biggest shareholders of Sotheby's.

Loeb has blamed Ruprecht for what he sees as the company's weak financial performance. In response, Sotheby's has called Loeb's comments "incendiary and baseless." The auction house has seen its shares fall by more than 20% this calendar year.

Loeb engaged in a bitter boardroom battle with Sotheby's this year and walked away with three board seats and a 15% stake in the company.

Sotheby's said Thursday that its board has formed a search committee to identify a new chief executive and has hired Spencer Stuart, an executive search firm, to help.

"The board is focused on ensuring a smooth transition that will facilitate Sotheby's continued success," the company said in Thursday's release. 

Ruprecht said in a statement: "I am comfortable and confident saying Sotheby's is well positioned for the next chapter of its success, and I will do all I can to contribute to a smooth leadership transition."

Shares of Sotheby's jumped in after-hours trading on Thursday after the company's announcement. 

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT

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