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Sotheby’s CEO steps down after an extended activist investor battle

Scene Last Night: Citadels Griffin, Ed Ruscha, Whitney NudesScene Last Night: Citadels Griffin, Ed Ruscha, Whitney Nudes
William RuprechtPhotograph by Amanda Gordon — Bloomberg/Getty Images

The long-serving CEO of Sotheby’s, William Ruprecht, is stepping down, following a year-long battle with activist investors.

The decision was by “mutual agreement,” the company said, and followed the board’s Thursday morning meeting with its dozen directors.

Ruprecht, a former furniture maker, joined Sotheby’s rug department in 1980 and rose to the top role in 2000. Under his leadership, the house expanded its art-related finance business and added retail wine and diamonds to its auction roster.

“I have had the privilege of working with so many talented and dedicated colleagues at Sotheby’s,” Ruprecht said in a statement. “I am proud of all that we have accomplished together.”

Ruprecht will continue to serve as CEO, chairman and president until a successor is named, Sotheby’s (BID) said.

The move comes six-and-a-half months after a shakeup on the board of directors following an activist investor campaign led by Dan Loeb’s Third Point.

Loeb first targeted the 270-year-old auction house in September of last year. He pushed for big changes that would make the company leaner and more profitable, such as selling its Manhattan headquarters and improving its balance sheet. Even after Ruprecht’s ouster, Loeb’s company remains the largest investor in Sotheby’s with a 9.6% stake as of Sept. 30, according to Bloomberg data.

Ruprecht isn’t the only CEO to fall prey to an activist investor campaign recently. Hertz CEO Mark Frissora stepped aside in September following an extended battle with Carl Icahn. Hertz announced Thursday that longtime airline industry executive John Tague would take over the top role.