LÉONARD TSUGUHARU FOUJITA (1886-1968) La fête d'anniversaire 76.5 x 101.7cm (30 1/8 x 40 1/16in); 91.6 x 116.5cm (36 1/16 x 45 7/8in) (with the artist's frame) (Painted in New York in June 1949) Macallan Valerio Adami-1926-60 year old Gerard Sekoto (South African, 1913-1993) Portrait of a man (Lentswana) A fine fancy pink diamond

As Bruno Vinciguerra takes the reins as Executive Chairman of Bonhams, he talks to Lucinda Bredin about his passion for the world of auctions

The auction business is full of unexpected excitement – as Bruno Vinciguerra knows well. The Impressionist and Modern Sale had been progressing in an encouraging fashion. But the big test was Lot 18 – Léonard Foujita's La fête d'anniversaire (1949), which had an estimate of £900,000 to £1,300,000. It was a full room, but Patrick Meade, the auctioneer, was fielding all the bids from the banks of telephones. As bidding climbed to £4m, there were only two left in the game: one talking to India Phillips, the department's Global Director; the other on the line to Dorothy Lin from Bonhams Hong Kong. After 15 minutes, India's client capitulated and Patrick brought down the hammer. The painting sold for £7,096,250, a new world record for the artist. "It is that thrill of the auction that you can't beat," said Vinciguerra. "It's the duel between people, both set on possessing something they cannot live without – and it's a moment when you can witness the value of a masterpiece being transformed."

Vinciguerra is steeped in the world of auctions. Formerly the Chief Operating Officer of Sotheby's, Vinciguerra joined Bonhams as Executive Chairman, after the private equity company Epiris acquired the auction house from Robert Brooks and Evert Louwman in September. He didn't need much persuasion, he says. "Bonhams is one of the very few auction houses in the world with an 18th-century heritage and a global reach across a wide range of departments and categories. Since I arrived, there have been at least three major world records achieved in Bonhams salerooms: in jewellery with the pink diamond, pictures – the Foujita – and a bottle of whisky that sold in Edinburgh for more than $1 million. We are achieving extraordinary prices and engaging with the biggest clients in the world.

"Building this platform is a testament to the great work that Robert, Matthew Girling and everyone at Bonhams has done over the last 15 years. We are growing our core business in traditional categories and in all sections of the market, which is certainly something we want to build on."

Sitting in his office in New Bond Street – Vinciguerra is based in New York, but spends half his time in the other salerooms in London, Los Angeles and Hong Kong – he says that the constant pleasure and most important element of the job is being surrounded by the people at Bonhams. "For everyone here, it's much more than a job... it's their way of life. I am so impressed by the enthusiasm, the creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit of our teams."

Vinciguerra was born and brought up in Paris – his Corsican name is courtesy of his grandfather – but his desire to explore the world came from a stint at a Jesuit boarding school, Mount St Mary's in Sheffield, when he was 13. The school is notable for the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins having taught there. Was going to the school a shock? "Food was not a highlight, but I loved everything else. And this experience away from home gave me the desire to travel around the world and to discover other cultures and other people." His next move after school was to spend a summer in Japan, working in a lithography studio cleaning the plates. "That was my first real encounter with the art world. The artists who worked there were so kind to me – they used to take me out to lunch."

Vinciguerra says he has had 17 addresses since he left home, but has now settled in Westchester, New York, with his wife, Emmanuele, the President of Vilebrequin, Americas, and their three teenage sons. He arrived in the United States 25 years ago as a strategist for Bain, the management consultancy, specialising in consumer goods and technology, before becoming a Senior Vice President at Disney in Los Angeles. Vinciguerra had an executive role at Dell for six years, before joining Sotheby's in New York in 2007. As COO, he was responsible for the global management of the company's business. "After the banking crisis of 2008, we worked very hard to return Sotheby's to alltime high levels of profitability and to build the structure and teams that allowed the company to grow." He also played a major role in the auction house's expansion into Beijing – the company was the first international fine-art auction house in mainland China – and, drawing on his long immersion in strategising for new technology, he played a key role in the development of digital initiatives.

As Vinciguerra only arrived in September, the blueprint for the next stage of Bonhams is still being crafted. "We will be investing heavily in online technology. Bonhams has a particular affinity with collecting areas that allow new buyers to acquire at an affordable level, and a remarkable capability to hold successful auctions across price points and categories. By allowing the entrepreneurship and creativity of our team to thrive, we will expand what Bonhams offers so that every collector can find their passion. Using the new tools that are now available will make that process more efficient and enjoyable for everyone.

"We will also be developing the Bonhams brand, especially in the US and mainland China, through innovative marketing, and we will invest in expertise to drive the business forward. I have already found an astonishing depth of knowledge and passion at Bonhams that sets the specialists and staff apart from their rivals. Their thirst for connoisseurship, and their pride in valuing clients and for imaginative initiatives has really energised me. I am very excited about the future here."

Lucinda Bredin is Editor of Bonhams Magazine.

Related auctions