Despite the schmaltzy exterior, Dede has a razor-sharp business brain. Clients and staff often fail to notice her cutting edge on account of the cheerful Doris Day patter she uses for conducting business. Human relations are her speciality. 'It's people issues that really concern me,' she told me last week. 'That's my style of management.'
She has had a meteoric rise at Sotheby's. Joining the New York staff from Citibank 14 years ago as part-time assistant to the operating officer, she made it to American chief executive in 1990, leaving a swath of male egos bleeding in her wake.
Those with their ears to the ground were aware more than a year ago that A Alfred Taubman, the American property developer who bought Sotheby's in 1983, was going off his chief executive, Michael Ainslie, and leaning towards Dede. Ainslie is to remain chief executive of Sotheby Holdings and will now 'focus more fully on relationships with many of our major international clients', according to last week's announcement.
Luke Rittner, former secretary general of the Arts Council and, for the past six weeks, Sotheby's chief press officer in London, was in difficulties when asked what bit of 'Sotheby's' Dede was chief executive of: 'It is slightly obscure and difficult to describe. She remains chief executive of Sotheby's North and South America but has the added set of responsibilities for auctions worldwide.'
Dede's influence with Taubman first became apparent when he took her protege Roger Faxon, 41, a former vice- president of Columbia Pictures, and made him managing director of Sotheby's Europe in 1991. Faxon at that time had one year's experience with art auctioneering; Dede had recruited him in 1990 as chief operating officer for North America, direct from the film business.
Last week's announcement makes the pecking order in the London office abundantly clear: 'Roger Faxon will be responsible for our European auction business in his continuing role as managing director for Sotheby's Europe, Lord Gowrie remains chairman of Sotheby's Europe, Simon de Pury and Tim Llewellyn continue as deputy chairmen.'
Both Dede's and Faxon's appointments reflect an effort to contain the disastrous effects of recession; Sotheby's pre-tax profits had fallen to dollars 6.5m in 1992 from dollars 105m in 1989 and London is being blamed. Christie's, its chief rival, was almost twice as profitable last year and well ahead of Sotheby's in Europe. Sotheby's has made a lot of staff changes in London to try to improve profitability.
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