Editor’s Note: Okay, I’ll admit it. When I was writing this profile, I kept thinking to myself that this was the epitome of a dream career. Every bit of Lydia’s path, rising the ranks to the top of Christie’s auction house, is swoon-worthy. But here’s the caveat—none of this incredible fortune has come without an immensely dedicated and focused amount of hard work. No matter what the task (particularly her memories about her first internship at Christie’s!) Lydia has risen to the occasion. Not only that, she also recognized and carved out a niche for herself in a company that is historically set in its ways. I feel like this profile should serve as the template for all aspiring career-women out there—with the reminder that you can have what you want, you’ll just have to work as hard as Lydia did.
Lydia Fenet is not your average Southern Belle.
Sure, the Louisiana born beauty has the grace and charm to succeed just about anywhere—but Lydia always had her sights set on what many consider to be the pinnacle of success, New York City, for as long as she can remember.
Her family was well-traveled, her mother was British so much of her childhood was spent overseas in London and Europe. For middle school, her older brother went to a well-known boys only boarding school in New York City and when he applied to boarding schools for high school, Lydia eagerly did the same.
She was accepted to her first choice, Taft School in Connecticut, which offered an exceptional education, gorgeous campus, and distinct cultural differences from her hometown in Louisiana.
In middle school, Lydia had played volleyball and basketball for four years on teams that never won a single game. On her entrance essay to Taft she reflected on these experiences and her ability to shrug off defeat and negativity as a result. In comparison, Taft was a total departure from this and she found herself playing on fiercely competitive sports teams throughout her four years…and finally winning! She also developed a great sense of independence, seamlessly transitioning from high school to college at Sewanee, The University of the South in Tennessee.
Pursuing her love of reading and writing, she immediately declared a major in history. Her junior year, she received an incredible opportunity to study at Oxford University in England and spend a month traveling through France, Spain and Italy. She remembers her art history professor, who used to bring his students to the major art museums in each city and lecture in front of the actual paintings he was teaching. She loved every second of it and declared a second major in art history.
Her father had crossed paths with a woman who had worked at Christie’s, and Lydia had reached out to request an internship during the summer of her Junior year of college. The program was full, but she was persistent, and the auction house made an exception.
The catch? She still had another year of school left.
At the end of her internship, there wasn’t enough headcount for a new position, so a heartbroken Lydia had to walk away.
Special Events at Christie’s was, as Lydia calls it, an intense and hilarious training ground. She worked six or seven days a week, oftentimes 16 hours a day.
During her second year she was given the completely surreal opportunity to try out as an auctioneer. A role usually dedicated to more senior levels of the company, a series of cancellations left a vacancy and Lydia jumped at the chance to try out.
As the requests for auctions started coming in, Lydia took every opportunity to hone her skill. She stopped focusing on only the bidders and started focusing on entertaining the entire audience. The end result was increased revenue for the charity and the added bonus that she was having a blast on stage!
By this point, Lydia was only 26 but was an instrumental figure at Christie’s, earning the title of a favored auctioneer and Head of Special Events.
By age 30—and nearly 4,000 events, and 400 auctions later—she was ready for a change.
Throughout the almost-decade Lydia had spent at Christie’s, she had noticed that the company was lacking a global platform for partnerships. Their current approach was to view partnerships as a band-aid solution to budget issues—approaching sponsors on a regional level without any strategy behind giving these sponsors access to the premium brand that is Christie’s.
Her solution? Create a global division that would pitch and secure high-profile integrated partnerships.
Lydia currently oversees a global team and recently celebrated her 15th year at Christie’s auction house. But her most important and most satisfying role, she says, is mother to her two beautiful children, Beatrice and Henry.
Tell me about some of the craziest auctions you’ve ever been to.
What’s the culture like in a high-profile auction or at a high-profile event? Do you normally see insanely wealthy people bidding on their own or do they hire brokers? Are you comfortable now schmoozing with the ultra-elite?
Do you feel like working at such a high-profile auction house for the entirety of your career has changed you?
You have created a road-map for starting and rising the ranks of a company. What advice would you give women who are feeling in a rut-- or even just starting out-- about being successful in a corporate environment?
What's the best advice you've ever received?
You can follow Lydia on Instagram @lydiafenet
Next week, meet Havin Gavgasi. She's a Kurdish immigrant that came to the US with dreams of opening her own coffee shop....and she did! She's up next on DRIVEN for Women.
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