Paul Swain - Greenhill Galleries
Managing director, Greenhill Galleries, for 17 years
WABN: What is the best piece of advice you can give someone to motivate a team?
PS: “Involve staff with all aspects of the business, encourage staff members to take on their own projects within the business and guide them through it. New projects keep the interest fresh in any business. Make them feel a part of the action, which keeps them as excited about the business outcome as the owner.”
WABN: What was the most challenging event in your career?
PS: “The most challenging event in my career was the purchase of my King Street property in 1991. At the time, it was a lot of money in the middle of the recession. Everyone I sought advice from strongly advised against purchasing the building, however I did the figures and realised the mortgage repayments on the building were less than the rent we were paying at the time at the other building, so I bit the bullet and went ahead with the purchase. The value of the building has gone up about 20 times since the original purchase. I learnt you should always go with your gut feeling and it’s easier for someone offering advice to say no rather than yes.”
WABN: What is the main quality are you looking for within your team members?
PS: “Individuality, initiative, courtesy. Initiative is the main quality I look for in staff members. It is important that they interpret a situation and handle it in their own way.”
WABN: What's best measurement of your performance, and can you name a highlight in your career?
PS: “I would say the relationship with the artists who have stayed with us throughout the good times and quiet times, and the high regard in which the gallery is held by clients throughout Australia and internationally.
One of the highlights…I recently had a major Brett Whiteley referred to me through someone I knew who knew the owner. The owner wanted it sold for $1,500,000 (one of the highest prices for a Whiteley at the time). I managed to sell it with one phone call, and subsequently had three other buyers for the work if the sale fell through. I sold it to its original owner, who, regrettably had to sell it after the crash in the late 1980s and has wanted it back ever since.”
WABN: How do you deal with egos in your workplace?
PS: “We really don’t have an ego problem in my workplace; all my staff are very down to earth and all get along well as a team. However, I feel a healthy ego is a positive thing as long as it doesn’t affect other members of the team or business in a negative way.”
WABN: What frustrates you the most about your sector and what would you do to change it?
PS: “People in Perth generally don’t share the same interest in buying art as in cities on the east coast. I have always maintained Sydney, for example, is about four times our population, however it has 20 times more art buyers for the same quality art. I am striving to change that, and increase Perth’s art awareness and appreciation.”
WABN: What are the specific hurdles that you meet on a daily basis in your sector?
PS: “What I dislike the most is rejecting artists who approach me for representation. Many artists fresh out of art school feel they should aim high and head straight for the most establishes galleries without proving to themselves and the art world that they are consistently good and developing as artists. I do, however, take on artists with little background who show great promise.”
WABN: Who is someone you dream of working with?
PS: “Richard Branson. I get great inspiration from his attitude towards business, which in a nutshell is [that] you have to have fun with any new business you take on; that way you make the business work so much better,”
WABN: Who has influenced you professionally and personally?
PS: “All the great artists I have dealt with throughout my career, such as John Olsen, Brett Whiteley, Clifton Pugh etc and my mother, Veda, who started Greenhill Galleries in Adelaide in 1972 and has always been in inspiration to me.”
WABN: What is your education background?
PS: “After I completed year 12 in Adelaide I went to Florence to study fine art, Baroque Renaissance Life drawing and painting at the British Institute of Florence, after which I came back to Perth and took over the running of Greenhill Galleries.”