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Wellers’ Chris Sykes on how chemistry and banking led to a career in auctions

PUBLISHED: 18:27 03 June 2014 | UPDATED: 18:48 03 June 2014

The new first-floor area of Wellers in Guildford after its £20k refurb last summer

The new first-floor area of Wellers in Guildford after its £20k refurb last summer


As MD at Wellers Auctioneers & Valuers in Guildford, Chris Sykes certainly knows a thing or two about running a successful business...

Tell us about yourself...

I trained and qualified as a chartered accountant after leaving Kent University with a chemistry degree in 1976. People often say to me that I took a strange career path, but I felt that both chemistry and accountancy had more in common than just the letter ‘y’ at the end – I feel that both disciplines answer the question ‘why?’ rather well too.

I spent the early part of my career in banking, which was well paid and a bit boring, but during the last 20 years I have worked in the auction industry, which is less well paid but much more interesting!

I married my current wife Maud in 1977 and we have one daughter who has just qualified as an ACA after studying science. Fortunately, in all other respects, she takes after her mother.


What makes you good at your job?

I am very empathetic – or telepathic – as I usually know, or perhaps just think that I know, what the other person is thinking. For this reason, I love dealing with new customers and creating sales opportunities. At the same time, I have another quite different side to me that is analytical so I like to understand the numbers in great detail.


Are there any particular challenges and, if so, how do you deal with them?

All of us probably spend 99 per cent of our time on day-to-day tasks. Our industry is changing at a frightening pace and the challenge for me personally is to spend a greater proportion of my time on change management rather than on routine tasks. 
I start each day with a list of tasks that I know will take longer than a day to complete and I then try to finish them all off in a day. What normally stops me is the open door to my office and the endless stream of problems, which in truth are fun to resolve.


How have you handled the downturn in the economy?

It has been difficult for us as we have had to be tough on costs. This has led to a few redundancies as well as a pay freeze over the last three years.
There’s a feeling though that we are maybe turning a corner here in Surrey? There is a lot more confidence around. 
The key for a fine art business is to have a buoyant housing market as that means more people moving, which in turn means more opportunities for us to dispose of their unwanted chattels.

At the same time, our jewellery department is starting to get very busy as customers begin to ease back on the purse strings and treat themselves to that watch or necklace that they always wanted.

Last summer, we completed a £20,000 refurbishment to create a new space on the first floor of our Guildford premises, which has become the new hub of operations for our special fine art, jewellery and antiques, and we believe this will vastly increase Wellers’ market share in the area, having had a run of fantastic sales already.


What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?

Allow your actions to be governed by business, pleasure or charity but never all three together.

Are there any entrepreneurs you particularly admire and why?

Sir Richard Branson is a great role model as he combines success in business with a high standard of ethical behaviour all whilst having fun, or at least he seems to!


How do you manage to get the work/life balance right?

The only people who get this right are the ones that have retired and the danger for them is being bored to death. More seriously, I think a successful life should include a measure of struggle (some call it a challenge) as without that element of struggle there would be no joy of accomplishment. So, in practice, I believe very few get this right, although I am close!


What do you think your legacy will be?

I hope that it will be profit and harmony in perpetuity.


Finally, what do you most enjoy about doing business in Surrey?

I once spent a few years living in Alderney where there are hardly any trees. When I then came to live in Surrey, I was struck by the variety and volume of trees, which I adore. These provide us all with a plentiful supply of oxygen, which we need for both business and leisure.


• Wellers Auctioneers & Valuers, Bedford Road, Guildford GU1 4SJ. Tel: 01483 802280; web:




A brief case…


The Apprentice or Dragon’s Den?

I prefer Dragon’s Den as it is a more realistic simulation of a business situation in contrast to The Apprentice, which seems very contrived and superficial


Lunchbreak or work straight through?

I normally prefer to work right through unless I am meeting with a client in which case a leisurely lunch is paying them a compliment and is to be recommended


Blackberry or iPhone?

I asked my daughter which I should buy three years ago and she said, “a blackberry is for a serious business person and an iPhone is for me as it’s more of an entertainment device.” I now think that this advice was poor as an iPhone has a much better screen for displaying a long memo or spread-sheet for those with failing vision and that includes me.


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