Career path proves a work of art

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 January, 2011, 12:00am

Jonathan Stone, the managing director, Asia, and international business director of Asian art and antiquities at Christie's, is a respected voice in his sector and a seasoned business leader. Based in Hong Kong, he oversees the management, financial control and strategic direction of the firm's specialist Asian art departments, with a focus on buyer activities and securing business. Stone joined Christie's after taking an MA in art history at London University's Courtauld Institute of Art and worked first as a specialist, then as head of department during the next 10 years. Transferring from London, he became the firm's representative director in Tokyo and, in 2005, international business director for Japan. Before studying art history, Stone had worked in Japan for several years in the field of branded consumer products. He is fluent in Japanese and holds a master's degree in history from Peterhouse College, Cambridge. He talks to Jan Chan.

What does it take to manage the business successfully?

You need to listen carefully to internal and external clients. Our representatives and specialists have close relations with important contacts, and they understand their own categories and geographic markets very well. For me, it is a question of listening to them and, of course, to our clients, as well as working closely with our international management to decide strategies for the region and for each department.

How do you motivate and inspire staff?

We are very fortunate in this business because people are extremely passionate about their jobs. Everybody is amazingly dedicated and the commitment is almost tangible. After running one of the specialist departments in London for 10 years, I know how and why people have those feelings about their work. It is very exciting to 'crack' the important clients and to be involved in transferring some of the world's greatest works of art from one collector to another. It is also important to maintain transparency in management decisions and ensure people are kept well informed.

What do you do to enhance your abilities as a leader?

The key thing is that you are always willing to learn. Time and the experience that comes with it mean you are learning the whole time, whether about leadership or other skills. It is also important to take the initiative and push yourself. Leadership is a matter of not being afraid to make difficult choices and tough decisions and, if necessary, being ready to explain your reasons. I also learn a lot by observing senior people, both in my own field and in other types of business, and realise that to be a good leader you sometimes need to put yourself in other people's shoes to see what it will take to make a connection.

In practical terms, how do you make people enjoy their jobs?

There is no sure way, but what you can do is enable people to grow, develop and realise their full potential. If they see their work is appreciated, they will soon understand that it is not just about material rewards but also a way to achieve personal fulfilment and broader recognition.

What do arts and antiquities mean to you?

Art is an aspect of creativity that distinguishes mankind from the animal kingdom. On an intellectual level, works of art represent some of the highest accomplishments of human civilisation. They give us a window to look not only into the soul of the artist but also into our own souls and, perhaps, of the people around us.

What advice can you give young people in Hong Kong?

Former US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt said: 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.' That's a useful view to bear in mind. People should not be afraid to test themselves and go beyond their comfort zone, especially when they are young and have so much in front of them.

Integrity is key

Stone believes it is essential to work with integrity, whichever field you are in

He says managers should be able to know when they are wrong and admit it

It's not easy to separate work and personal life, as they often seem to overlap

He tends to check his BlackBerry addictively, even outside working hours