Annual Review 2016

Chairman's Report

Strauss & Co can look back on 2016 with gratitude and a sense of achievement.

The year started on a sad note with the company having to adjust to the very sudden and unexpected loss of its managing director and co-founder, Stephan Welz. This precipitated talk in the market about the company’s ability to survive and prosper in the absence of an enigmatic and influential individual who was not only the most renowned auctioneer in South Africa, but, to many collectors and art cognicenti, also the face of art in our country.

Such speculation amounted to a serious underestimation of the team that Stephan had built around him over several decades and the legacy he left through the creation of Strauss & Co in conjunction with co-founders, Elisabeth Bradley and Dr Conrad Strauss. To the Strauss team, failure in the face of adversity was simply not an option.

The Board moved quickly, appointing two highly experienced executive directors Bina Genovese and Vanessa Phillips as joint Managing Directors and promoting Susie Goodman to General Manager of the Johannesburg office. The team joined forces with valued friend, internationally renowned auctioneer and art specialist, Dendy Easton, and together they succeeded in righting the ship and staying successfully on course.

The next challenge came in June 2016 when some staff members were targeted for employment by aspirant competitors. Although this was a backhanded compliment as to the quality of the team, it could have had a serious negative impact on the business. Again, the Board, under the leadership of Elisabeth Bradley, Dr Strauss and Caro Wiese acted decisively appointing Carmen Welz and myself to the Board and and employing Wilhelm van Rensburg and Marion Dixon to complement the expertise of the very loyal and committed core team in Johannesburg.

I was very privileged to join Strauss & Co at such an exciting time in the company’s history. The challenges faced by the company energised the team and gave it a very strong sense of purpose: to remain the market leader in the secondary market for South African art and antiques.

The second half of 2016 proved to be an outstanding period for the company with two very exciting and successful auctions in Cape Town and Johannesburg and two record setting online auctions, allowing the company to set a new annual turnover record of R 215 million.

These results reflected the almost unbelievable quality of works sourced by the team. It was particularly special to present ten works by Alexis Preller that had never been offered in the secondary market and in some instances, such as the iconic Adam, been considered lost. My compliments to the entire team for sourcing these works notwithstanding competition from international auction houses, enabling us to bring them home and give our clients an opportunity to view and acquire these magnificent works in their country of origin.

South African art is at a very exciting juncture. Our contemporary galleries have succeeded in establishing themselves at art fairs across the world and the two primary art fairs in Cape Town and Johannesburg are of an international standard and firmly entrenched in the global art calendar. The opening of the Zeitz MOCAA in September this year and the Norval Museum thereafter, will give added impetus to the exposure and interest in African and South African art and artists.

Strauss & Co is privileged to be a part of this very dynamic landscape and is committed to expanding the demographic appeal of the art it offers and the client base it serves.

To retain market leadership, Strauss & Co has to continue providing outstanding service to its clients, both sellers and buyers, in establishing an effective, transparent and informed market place. We are committed to that goal, and to retaining a sense of fun and joy while setting ever higher standards for ourselves.

Our heartfelt thanks to our team and all our clients for their incredible support during a tumultuous, but ultimately, a highly rewarding year.

Frank Kilbourn

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