Rebecca Wei, one of the most prominent auction-house executives in Asia, has stepped down from her role as chairman of Christie’s Asia after just eight months on the job. A former management consultant, she joined the auction house in 2012 as the Asia general manager and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming the region’s president in 2016 before her most recent promotion last year.
The high-powered executive’s departure comes in the wake of a downturn in Chinese auction sales amid economic uncertainty and the strain of the US-China trade war. artnet Analytics found that total auction sales in China dropped 10.5 percent the first half of 2019 compared to January through June of last year. That figure was even larger, 11.7 percent, across all of Asia.
Christie’s has been particularly hard hit: its spring sales in Hong Kong made HK$2.55 billion ($377 million), down approximately 18 percent from the equivalent series of sales last year. (Rival Sotheby’s, meanwhile, bucked the trend, seeing a small rise in its spring Hong Kong results to $482 million (HK$3.78 billion), up from $466.5 million last spring.)
Christie’s confirmed that Wei is leaving the company “to take up a new professional challenge in 2020.” Her promotion to chairman, which has less day-to-day involvement in the auction business, may not have been the best fit, speculated the South China Morning Post, which first reported Wei’s departure.
“I am immensely proud of the growth that has been achieved during my time with Christie’s, in regional sales as well as Asian contribution to Christie’s global revenue,” Wei said in a statement provided to artnet News. “We are well positioned to further expand and serve collectors in the region in the years ahead.”
Wei’s ascension in the company coincided with the rise of a new class of billionaire Asian collectors such as Liu Yiqian, whose big ticket purchases include a $170.4 million Amedeo Modigliani nude from Christie’s New York and a $45 million 15th-century Buddhist tapestry from Christie’s Hong Kong. Wei was sitting with collector Robert Chang when he won a rare 18th-century Chinese vase for $14.5 million at Christie’s Hong Kong in spring 2018.
“During her tenure, Rebecca has contributed to the growth of Christie’s activities across the region and we are grateful for her contributions,” a Christie’s spokesperson said in a statement. “We are well positioned to further expand and serve collectors in the region in the years ahead. Our leading teams continue to innovate and extend our activities to clients throughout Asia, welcoming new audiences, serving collectors as well as providing outstanding education and public exhibition opportunities.”
Prior to joining the auction house, Wei spent a decade at McKinsey & Company, where she was the first female partner elected to their Greater China office. The move to Christie’s constituted a major career shift.
“At the age of 40 I just said I need a change,” Wei told CNBC last year. “You have to ask yourself: ‘Do I still feel passionate about what I’m doing?’ If I see my passion diminishing I will move.”
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