Sotheby's taps Madison Square Garden head as new CEO

Sotheby's taps Madison Square Garden head as new CEO
Edvard Munch's "The Scream" goes up for sale at Sotheby's in New York in 2012. The auction house has named Tad Smith as its new CEO. (Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)

Sotheby's has reached out beyond the confines of the rarefied art world to find its new chief executive officer.

The art auction behemoth announced Monday that it has tapped Tad Smith, who has served as president and CEO of the Madison Square Garden Co. since 2014. Smith will officially assume his post at Sotheby's on March 31.

The appointment comes a few months after the announced departure in November of Sotheby's CEO William Ruprecht, whose tenure as head of the New York-based auction house began in 2000 but had been challenged in recent years by activist investor Daniel Loeb, the head of hedge fund Third Point.

Loeb assailed Ruprecht's leadership, particularly the company's competitive position against rival Christie's in the contemporary art market.


Prior to joining Madison Square Garden Co., Smith served as president in the local media division of Cablevision Systems and was CEO of the U.S. business-to-business division of Reed Elsevier Group.

By comparison, Ruprecht was an art world insider, having risen through the ranks of Sotheby's since joining the auction house more than three decades ago.

Sotheby's said on Monday that it will separate the roles of chairman and CEO and that its board has elected lead independent director Domenico De Sole to succeed Ruprecht as board chairman. Smith will also join the company's board of directors.

In December, Christie's made a surprise announcement that its CEO, Steven Murphy, was stepping down. The high-level departures at two of the world's largest auction houses has created widespread speculation in the art world. Some experts have questioned whether the rivals' hunger for big-ticket sales has hurt their profitability.

Patricia Barbizet, a longtime executive for French billionaire François Pinault, who owns Christie's, was named CEO of the London-based auction house late last year.

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT