Anna Moreau chats with Robert Buratti, director of United Galleries.
WABN: Describe in one sentence a day at work.
RB: “A busy mix of advising clients, liaising with artists, organising major events, negotiating with international art dealers, and working through tasks in both the Sydney and Perth locations.”
WABN: What is the best piece of advice you can give someone to motivate a team?
RB: “Involve your team in the successes of the business and create a unique vision that each individual can feel part of. I’m a big believer that people become successful because they’re driven by excitement and passion rather than money.”
WABN: What was the most challenging event in your career?
RB: “I am originally from Sydney, so the biggest challenge was probably starting up the new gallery business in a relatively new market isolated from the majority of my existing clients and networks. I learned that, when put under pressure, you can become extremely resourceful and focused.”
WABN: What is the main quality are you looking for within your team members?
RB: “Self- belief and commitment. Too often people start work in the art industry not understanding how difficult it really is. In the industry, there are the extremes of those who make very little money and those who make tremendous amounts of money. The difference is that the successful dealers tend to believe in themselves and their ability to create business. They won’t let competitors or market conditions get in their way. That is a big part of the culture at United.
“The art industry on the whole is a wonderful example of pure entrepreneurialism and we look for candidates who have both the self-drive and the creativity to build a business.”
WABN: What's best measurement of your performance, and can you name a highlight in your career?
RB: “The best measurement in many ways is client satisfaction. It is an extremely important part of the art industry. We deal in luxury items, and hence must provide a higher level of attention and detail than most other businesses. We have clients who continually come back for advice and future purchases, with many major private collectors and corporations now choosing us as an exclusive source for their artwork. When that happens, it tells us that we are on the right track.”
WABN: How do you deal with egos in your workplace?
RB: “The art industry is rife with ego issues by nature, but, by and large, we strive for an environment of consistent teamwork within the company. Art companies are generally made up of small teams that must work cohesively to be successful. Our staffing decisions are always made in respect to this dynamic. People must fit the company culture; if they don’t or won’t, then the situation is never going to be successful and both parties will stagnate.”
WABN: Is there an organisation/business model that you strive to achieve/reach?
RB: “I love the innovation of companies like Virgin, which place a real value on service and attention. It is unmistakably part of their brand and they breed a great deal of loyalty as a result.”
WABN: What frustrates you the most about your sector and what would you do to change it?
RB: “My biggest frustration is the snobbery aspect of the industry and also the general rudeness of most galleries. There are some brilliant galleries in Perth who do a wonderful job in making a visitor feel welcome. Then there are others who have been in the business too long and seem to go out of their way to avoid interaction and assume that they are the holder of all art knowledge in the city. They won't entertain new ideas or new art. In some quarters, the art industry can be the most narrow-minded and regressive industry on the business landscape.
“The other thing that annoys me is the various flash-in-the-pan 'art advisers' who can't deliver to their clients when they guarantee certain returns [on art investments]. Many of these advisers have little or no training. More established and experienced galleries are then left to pick up the pieces for these people and help them enjoy collecting art again.”
WABN: What are the specific hurdles that you meet on a daily basis in your sector? How do you deal with them?
RB: “The biggest hurdle is always effective time management. I need to cram a lot into my day, making time to meet clients, artists and the gallery team. The trick is planning and being realistic about what you can actually achieve in a day’s work.”
WABN: Have you read a good book on management/leadership that you can recommend?
RB: “There are two books that I think are great. The Ten Minute Manager is a great practical handbook for working with teams. Everything you need to know about practical team management is in that book. By far it has been the most helpful advice I have received from a management text.
“Another book, The 33 Strategies of War, is a great treatise on competitive strategies for life and business, which helps to reinvigorate and motivate me every time I read it.”
WABN: What is your favorite hobby?
RB: “I have studied various martial arts since I was about four years old, and it is still a great outlet for me. At the moment I am returning to sword training, and close combat fighting styles in particular.”
WABN: Which personality inspired you the most throughout your career?
RB: “There are many in the industry who provide inspiration, particular the great art dealers of yesteryear such as Ambroise Vollard and Joseph Duveen, and some of the dealers of today such as Larry Gogosian. I am also inspired by amasing artists locally like Garry Shead and James Gleeson for their warmth and insight.”
WABN: Who has influenced you personally?
RB: “My father. He is a masterful salesman and observer of people. He does business in a very difficult and competitive field, all while being a man of great integrity, ethics and passion.”
WABN: Who has influenced you professionally?
RB: “Anthony Ghattas, the MD of the United Lifestyle Group, who has taught the value of focus and self-belief in achieving your goals. He is an amazing mentor to have in business.”
WABN: What were you doing before your current position?
RB: “I was working as a private art adviser to a range of eastern states-based clients.”
WABN: What is your education background?
RB: “I have a bachelor of arts degree majoring in visual arts, critical and cultural theory, developmental psychology and English literature. From there I studied a masters of arts administration and have recently been offered the option of a PhD, which I hope to commence shortly.”