Ongoing Struggle Over Sale of Sotheby’s Has Shareholders Agitated

One of the world's largest auction houses is set to be sold to a telecom tycoon, but there's been a significant amount of pushback.

Sotheby’s Bond Street, London. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

For the past 31 years, Sotheby’s, one of the world’s most prominent auction houses, has been a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange. In early June, it was announced that this decades-long status would conclude with the company’s sale to Patrick Drahi, a billionaire French-Israeli telecom tycoon and founding shareholder of the Netherlands company Altice. While this move will theoretically give Sotheby’s the license to explore innovative growth strategies more attuned to the realms of finance and data mining, some of the art giant’s current shareholders are none too pleased with the prospect of the change in management. This week, a fourth Sotheby’s shareholder filed suit in an attempt to prevent the sale from happening. 

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Phillip Stevens, Michael Kent, Eli Goffman and Shiva Stein are all trying to block the sale on the grounds that Sotheby’s has filed information to the Securities and Exchange Commission about the auction house’s cash flow that, they allege, is insufficient. Sotheby’s responded to Stevens’ class-action suit, the latest to be filed, with the same statement that they’ve made in response to previous filings: “As the vast majority of all public company mergers over $100 million are the subject of shareholder litigation, the lawsuits filed were expected and routine. We do not expect the suits to have any impact on our targeted closing timing of the fourth quarter of this year.”

Drahi himself is reportedly an enthusiastic but secretive collector of Impressionist and Modern art, as well as the owner of some “fairly spectacular” pieces by the Belarussian-French painter Marc Chagall, according to artnet. Written about in the French press as an infamous king of acquisition and cost-cutting, it’s as yet unclear what plans Drahi has for Sotheby’s overall. Judging by the apparent agitation of the lawsuit-weidling shareholders, there’s reason to be anxious. 

Ongoing Struggle Over Sale of Sotheby’s Has Shareholders Agitated