From Christie’s Art Finance to the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion committee, Sayuri Ganepola leads with her values — and her passion for art
I’ve made a number of shifts throughout my career. I was a biology major in college before going into finance and banking and then working in the start-up world for a bit. Art was always a personal passion of mine, but I hadn’t considered how it might become part of my professional life. I remember talking about it with my husband, and he suggested ‘Since you like to drag me from gallery to gallery, why don’t you go back to school to really learn about it?’
At that point I had completed my MBA, and I thought I was done with school, but I followed my interests and went to Christie’s Education. It was important for me to study somewhere that offered internship experiences at a place I could see myself working at someday. Christie’s Ed felt like an obvious choice.
Each challenge prepares you for the next. After graduating, I was fortunate to find a placement here, and I had the opportunity to work in a variety of business management roles that enabled me to see how all areas of the business fit together and build a global internal network. Later, as the Regional Head of Client Strategy, I was able to develop a strong understanding of our client base and embrace the unique competitive advantage our object and client data provides. Looking back over the past two and half years, I can see how all of my experiences, on Wall Street and at Christie’s, were instrumental in helping me build our Christie’s Art Finance business.
At its simplest, art finance involves valuing someone’s art collection and providing a loan against the value of their fine art as assessed by our specialists. Christie’s has been doing art lending for a very long time in the form of advances against the proceeds from sale. But when we started our new lending platform, Christie’s Art Finance, we wanted expand our client offering and can now provide these loans with a distinct nuance: no obligation to sell.
This added flexibility has been incredibly meaningful for our clients. They can work closely with our specialists to unlock the value of art that’s hanging on their walls, on a timeline that meets their needs. Most often we see our borrowers funding further art purchases, business investments or real estate.
Our clients are very global, so they appreciate the scope of our infrastructure and specialists around the world. We have the breadth of expertise across categories to cover their collections holistically. It’s been exciting to serve a broader group of collectors who generally transact more heavily in the primary market, because we can now provide them liquidity against the collections they are actively growing.
I learn something every day. It’s rare that you are able to do what I do in finance but in a place where you’re surrounded by such passionate, creative people and amazing artistic objects. I’m in awe of the sales we put on and the insights of our specialists. I learn something every time I walk through the galleries.
Bring your values to work. I’m also the co-chair of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion for Christie’s, Americas, and serve on the company’s global ED&I committee. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of my job because it enables me to connect with a greater purpose beyond my day-to-day responsibilities. It’s incredibly fulfilling to work on projects that aim to foster a positive workplace environment that is respectful and inclusive, and create greater access to the art market generally.
There are strong social and moral reasons to bring more voices to the table, and it’s also good business. New perspectives will only make us more competitive in the future because they widen our view of the world and enhance our innovation and creativity.
I hope that each step, each bit of progress, makes it easier for the next person. Some of the most moving moments during my time on the ED&I committee have been when someone pops into my office and says that an event we hosted resonated with them or that they appreciate what we’re standing up for.
Those personal moments with co-workers are really special because coming up in my career, I didn’t always have somebody to whom I could go and discuss these types of issues or concerns. So it’s gratifying to see the impact and the progress first-hand.
‘When you have the confidence to make some bobs and weaves through your career, you end up finding yourself’
You can come into the art world through so many different functional areas. Whether that’s finance, marketing, operations, legal or human resources — the list goes on — there are so many roles that are necessary for our business to run. I love that you can bring your functional skill set to contribute to this exciting and unique industry.
Finding yourself involves taking risks. I never could have imagined when I graduated college that I would end up in a position that marries all of my past experience in finance and banking with my interest in art. It fits me and my values and just feels right. When you have the confidence to make some bobs and weaves through your career, you end up finding yourself.
Someone once told me that there are times when you just have to throw your hat over the wall and follow it. Like, ‘It looks interesting on the other side, so I'm going to toss it and here we go.’ You don't necessarily know what's going to happen, but you just have to take that leap.
Sign up today
Christie’s Online Magazine delivers our best features, videos, and auction news to your inbox every week