Features
4 May 2016

A day in the life: Lynne Turner

Lynne Turner, global finance director for Christie’s, left the corporate world for the passion and excitement of the International Auction House. She tells Raymond Doherty why she can’t get enough of the buzz

WHY I CHANGED CAREERS

I had been working for 26 years and wanted a career break. I spent a year fundraising with women’s charities and doing a psychology degree. I thought: “I should do one more role because I have the desire but it’s got to be a business that I’m passionate about.”

I emailed a recruitment contact and within 12 hours she’d emailed me back and said: “Christie’s is looking for a finance director, I think it could be perfect for you.” I met my boss and he got me a ticket to the June impressionist and modern evening sale.

You see the theatre of the auction, the buzz of it and there were a couple of lots that were being sold to support a charity. There’s a philanthropic element to this as well as the passion about the art.

He basically sealed the deal for me by saying: “If you join before December we’ve got the Elizabeth Taylor sale, her jewellery and clothing, and you can come to New York for that auction. It will be one of those iconic events in Christie’s’ history.” So that was my first auction: 100% sold, incredible. The professionalism of it, the passion; it just gets under your skin.

MY RESPONSIBILITIES

I’ve made a few changes in my team, both structurally and personnel, so I’ve got a good mix of people who’ve been at Christie’s a long time and really understand the DNA of the organisation, and others who’ve got new ideas.

It’s the marriage of the two that creates the successful team.
I have a collaborative rather than directive style of management. I like to spend time with my team understanding their motivation and what they’re good at.

There’s a lot of change to be made but I left the corporate world to do something different

THE CHALLENGES I FACE

We are dealing with creative people who are passionate about the art and the client. In many businesses people will talk about the values of putting the client first. Here, the client is absolutely first so there can be a tension between things that are seen as corporate or process or somehow impinging on the freedom to be creative.

You have to find a way of not just meeting in the middle, but understanding why this would be relevant to this person. That’s what attracted me to the role. There’s a lot of change to be made, but I left the corporate world to do something different and I don’t want to turn this into another corporate organisation.

INDUSTRY QUIRKS

The art market is very different from any other corporate sector I’ve worked in. We might be in the middle of a complex discussion about pension schemes or global interest rates and the meeting will be interrupted because a masterpiece has just arrived in the gallery.

Almost every day I go home with a “guess what happened today?” story. Like any global business we also are affected by global economics and politics.

MY TYPICAL DAY

My alarm goes off at 6.15am and I start the day with exercise. I do some pilates or yoga or I go to the park and run. I usually have breakfast at home.

We live quite close to Lancaster Gate, which helps quality of life a lot. In the summer I Boris Bike across the park; in the winter I take the bus because I like sitting on the top of a double-decker. Living in London is still a novelty for me.

St James’s is very historical so I try to vary my route because you can always find little nooks and crannies and interesting little old shops, old wine merchants and barbers.

When I get to Christie’s I have a look at what we’ve got upstairs in the gallery. It’s a nice start to the day and it’s usually quite quiet.  If I’m in the office, the rest of my day is pretty similar to any finance director: managing projects, meeting and steering groups. We spend a lot of our time on Telepresence – a video conferencing facility where everybody is life-size.

You’re sitting in a semicircle with our New York or Hong Kong or Paris colleagues on the other side of the screen.

MY RITUALS

I don’t do routine, I never have. I’ve always liked projects, a bit of a crisis, a problem to sort out. We have teams in Hong Kong, Paris, Geneva, Amsterdam and Milan and an auction house in New York so I get to travel.

Having children, good friends and a social life puts everything into perspective. Also, the work that I do for the micro-loan foundations and fundraising I find really fun and energising.

HOW THE ACA HELPED MY CAREER

It’s an incredible discipline: doing the exams and trying to manage that when you’re working full-time and you’re young and want a social life. The ability to manage your time effectively and not be overwhelmed is a good trait.

It gives you a unique insight into different businesses, as long as you take the opportunity to be curious. Why is this business successful? What is it about that one that makes it more difficult?

THE HABITS OF AN ACCOUNTANT

Accountants tend to be data-rational. We bring objectivity to a business case or debate. The best can balance that with intuition: if you can bring the best of both, people will perceive you in a more rounded way. They’ll listen to your rationality.

You need that ability to step back and turn numbers into a story. Communication is important for modern accountants, otherwise we quickly become irrelevant and we can just be filing our accounts, but it doesn’t really move the agenda of the business forward.

Raymond Doherty

 

Lynne Turner is speaking at ICAEWs Financial Controllers' Conference 2016 on 21 July

See here for details

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