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At his first results conference, just 41 days after arriving at the company, the new CEO restated his focus was very much on shareholders and a "vibrant and compelling" growth strategy.

Sotheby's first quarter of 2015 returned a net profit of $5.1m compared to a net loss of $5.9m for the same period last year. This was against stable total revenues, which fell 1% from $156.8m to $155.7m.

Higher buyer's premium thresholds operating since February 1 have combined with a lower share of the buyer's premium for key consignors to boost auction commission margins.

The company have shaved close to $3m off salaries and related expenses following their restructure, helping partially offset the $4.2m cost of bringing Mr Smith on board.

The auctioneers have also revealed that they paid $30.7m for their 25% stake in luxury and classic car auctioneers RM, now renamed RM Sotheby's.

Incentive Payments

A decrease in private sales has also led to a 40% cut in incentive payments for staff linked to them, while the hefty legal bill incurred in 2014 to fight shareholder activism has fallen away. Mr Smith has suggested Sotheby's buy back stock, where possible, to return more control to the board.

The latest set of results reveal financial services at the heart of the firm's development. The company's target of 15% return on equity for shareholders is dependent on the success of the finance operation, said Mr Smith.

Revenues here were up 78% for the quarter at $16m compared to $8.9m for the same period in 2014.

The average loan portfolio rose 41% from $481m to $677.6m.

Market share at the top end remains an essential element of the growth strategy, with auction guarantees a central weapon in the armoury for winning business. However, for those concerned that once again this would mean increased risk, the new CEO promised that Sotheby's would not "roll dice with shareholders' money in the saleroom".

"Too early to say," was Mr Smith's response to a number of questions concerning the company's future but an in-depth spending review is high on the list.