Blending Beauty and Business

For Saïd EMBA student Max Rutten, daily studies alternate with running his gallery, which sells decorative paintings and antique grand pianos

I'm the owner of an art gallery in Manhattan that specializes in decorative paintings and antique grand pianos. One prominent publication recently called our showroom "a piano wonderland" because each piece looks so different from the next.

I started the EMBA at Oxford with the intention of learning "to speak the same language" as my clients, many of whom are entrepreneurs in the finance and banking sectors. They have come to respect and appreciate the advice I have given them over the years in cultural affairs, building an art collection, and evaluation or choosing a work of art. Based on these contacts and this experience, I eventually hope to set up an art investment fund. For this, I strongly felt I needed a good business education.

Since I started the company 13 years ago, our firm has become a world leader in its niche. Our prominent clientele, with a refined preference for the beautiful things in life, has allowed us to branch out into fine art objects, paintings (19th century, modern, and contemporary), and antique furniture. We also provide consultancy services on how to build, maintain, and value an art collection.

The business employs about 20 full- and part-time craftsmen in our workshops in Europe and the U.S. Until 2003, the company had galleries in New York, Miami, Dallas, and San Francisco, but after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, we had to shrink the scale of our activities. Now we work almost exclusively out of New York, where we meet with our clients by appointment only.

My responsibilities vary between buying and selling fine art and musical instruments, supervising their restoration, maintaining client relationships, and advising on art-related issues and sales. Here's what a typical day is like in my business:

4 a.m. -- My preferred time to rise and shine. I have found over the years that I enjoy getting a head start on the world, or at least on New York. The notion that I'm productive while most everyone is still asleep in "the city that never sleeps" gives me a sense of having an edge on the competition. Because part of my business involves workshops in Europe and Asia, I make a bunch of phone calls into those time zones over my first cup of coffee.

4:30 a.m. -- Time for my mental training. After checking overnight e-mails over my second cup of java and cereal breakfast, I dedicate the next few hours to my studies at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford.

Many MBA programs have been criticized lately for being a "rite of passage" for students who can afford the high fees or for not preparing students for the real world. Naturally, I was concerned about this when choosing a business school. I chose Oxford because of the high standards and reputation that the university has managed to uphold for 800 years, as well as for its modular format. Like most other things in life, you will only get out of it what you make of it yourself.

7:30 a.m. -- Now it's time for my physical training. For many years I have enjoyed long-distance running, swimming, and triathlons, as well as a range of adventure sports. With some mental work behind me, there's no better time in the day for me to go for a run, a swim in the pool, or a spinning class at the gym. On the weekends, I try to squeeze in a double workout or combine any of the above with a yoga session.

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