Albrecht von Stetten: 5 Things You Should Do To Become a Thought Leader In Your Industry

Effective altruism is essentially the idea that no matter who you are, there is only a finite amount of money that you can direct into philanthropic endeavors. Therefore, it is better to use it to maximize the social benefit of that money, based on evidence and reason, rather than just directing it to ‘feel good’ […]

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Effective altruism is essentially the idea that no matter who you are, there is only a finite amount of money that you can direct into philanthropic endeavors. Therefore, it is better to use it to maximize the social benefit of that money, based on evidence and reason, rather than just directing it to ‘feel good’ projects.

I believe that if more people followed this approach with the money they donate, the world really could become a better place.

We had the pleasure to interview Albrecht von Stetten.

Albrecht von Stetten was born into a southern-German aristocratic family and grew up in a converted monastery, surrounded by medieval and renaissance art. He had to put his artist’s dreams on hold to run the family’s farms, which he quietly turned into one of Europe’s largest agricultural conglomerates.

After selling off much of the business in 2013, his life was a clean canvas again — and so were his empty walls. So he returned to his boyhood’s passion by buying art, which shifted gear when he met Kiki and decided to work with her to jointly build and curate a world-leading collection of super-realistic, figurative, contemporary art.

A watershed conversation with an artist one night in Spain opened his eyes to the grim reality of the art world, which almost guarantees that true masterpieces never see the light of day — a pain to the artists and a regrettable loss to humankind.

On the spot, Albrecht promised to fund this artist for as long as it would take to bring out his masterpiece. This took longer than expected (years rather than months), but the experience with this artist and a handful of others led to the IBEX Masters model that liberates, on so many levels, the most amazing superrealistic painters alive today.

When he is not traveling with his co-collectors Kiki and David to meet with artists and curators around the globe, Albrecht enjoys driving and hiking through the rolling hills of Bavaria, his home, and tops it off with one of his favorite Bavarian beers.

Thank you so much for joining us. What is your “backstory”?

My ‘backstory’ is quite a simple one. I was born into an old German family, and when I was eighteen, I started farming. I was the first farmer to enter East Germany after the fall of the wall and grew the business to become one of Europe’s largest agricultural companies. I sold most of my business five years ago to do something different with my life, while I was still young enough. I had no intention at that time to become an art collector.

A desire to find a few paintings for my office walls has become an obsession that has led me to travel a couple of million kilometers in the last five years to meet with artists all over the world. It has led to the purchase of over three-hundred pieces that now form the Ibex Collection, one of the largest collections of contemporary figurative super-realist art in the world.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

There have been two very important events for me in the last decade or so.

The first was meeting my wife. As an entrepreneur, a supportive partner is incredibly important, and in that, I have been very fortunate. I first met my wife fifteen years ago. I was having a business lunch, and an incredibly energetic woman came up to me at our table on the sidewalk and gave us a flyer for something. Instantly I was struck speechless. I couldn’t bring myself to talk, and she left before I could marshal my thoughts. I started asking around if anyone knew who she was, and after some hours, I was directed to her house. She opened the door, and I told her I wanted to marry her. Two months later, we were married, and for the last fifteen years, we have loved and supported each other in running our respective businesses. The lesson that I learned from this is to never live with regrets over actions you did not take. Take action.

One of the other transformative experiences for me occurred in the studio of Spanish artist Dino Valls. I have been fortunate to have had many wonderful moments pursuing my passion for collecting art, but my experiences with Dino have been almost spiritual.

Two and a half years ago, I asked Dino if he would be interested in creating his defining piece to date for our collection, and he became our inaugural Ibex Master of the Year. Every few months, I have visited to see how things were going. Dino’s creative process has always impressed me. Before putting brush to the board, he spent eighteen months obsessively planning, up to ten hours a day, almost every day. We have hundreds of pages of notes and many scale models from this process — each of them a small work of art and creative thinking in their own right.

Two weeks ago, I caught up with Dino for lunch after a couple of months and had a quick visit to his studio. His painting had surged ahead and taken on many new elements and seeing it, I found the hairs on my arms rising, and I was overwhelmed to be in the presence of what I believe will be a piece of art that in one hundred years will take its rightful piece as a great masterpiece. This sounds crazy, but leaving, as I was shaking hands with Dino, I had the feeling that this must have been what it was like to have visited the studio of da Vinci, to be in the presence of incredibly humble greatness.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

More than four years ago, we started a project where we reviewed a couple of thousand hyperrealist and realist artists, met with over four hundred of them all over the world, and offered twenty-four of them the opportunity to paint their personal masterpiece, entirely free of time, subject and financial constraints.

On average, each artist has spent more than three years working on one piece, and in September 2019, we will be exhibiting those pieces in New York.

About half of the pieces have been finished now, and the results are breathtaking. We are incredibly excited to be involved in the resurgence of interest in realistic figurative art that we see across Europe, the US, and Asia.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

Seven days a week, often sixteen hours a day, I meet with and talk to or about artists. This is absolutely fascinating to me, learning about their different inspirations, creative processes, and who they are as human beings — their lives and their fears.

With the approach that we have to collect, which involves creating very deep connections with many artists, my two fellow collectors and I take huge pleasure in the genuine friendships we have all developed.

One of my favorite memories is from when we took a group of six artists from Germany, Russia, Spain, Argentina, and Italy to visit their colleagues in China and Japan. We were all traveling together for ten days, and one night, in particular, it was two o’clock in the morning, and we were sitting beside a road in Beijing on little pink plastic chairs at a very local bar. The subject of the meaning of art came up, and the conversation that then continued for the next couple of hours remains a potent memory for me. The different opinions that each artist had are something that we often refer back to.

Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?

My inspiration has always been turning dreams into reality. I derive enormous satisfaction in growing things from just an idea into something that is real and successful.

When I was ten, for some reason, I took it into my head to design my dream home. It was huge and based on organic design principles, with rounded walls and rooms containing everything that a ten-year-old imagination could dream up. At the age of twenty-three, the house built upon those initial plans was finished, and we moved in.

Now I have the luxury to be able to assist other people in realizing their dreams. Working with artists to enable them to create the art they have always dreamed of, but never had the financial freedom or time to create. I am working to spread the word about the amazing artists that exist completely unknown to the art world, simply because they had the misfortune to be born outside of a major art city. All of that is incredibly satisfying to me and is far more meaningful than my previous personal successes.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

For my entire business career and now as an art collector, I have always strived to create win-win situations. I am sometimes told that this is an old-fashioned idea, but I am able to clearly attribute a lot of my success in life to this philosophy. I believe that people are always more willing to work with you and to bring opportunities to you if they know that they will be treated fairly. It is a simple thing, but I think that the power of never deviating from this approach by taking a ‘quick win’ at the cost of fairness becomes more and more powerful over time. Like the hare and the tortoise, I believe that it ultimately creates a higher level of success.

In recent years I have been thinking a lot about how I want to engage with the art world as an art lover and collector. I am in a fortunate situation where I could donate significant amounts to various arts institutions and call myself a “patron of the arts.” I don’t want to dismiss the value of that, but this approach is not for me. Instead, I have preferred to provide my time, business expertise, and money directly, working with artists to support and build their artistic careers.

I would love to see and even work with more art patrons who share this philosophy. I try very hard not to influence artists’ art, but to instead provide resources to support the direction that they want to go. Many artists do not have a lot of business expertise, and while the idea of the ‘starving artist’ is a popular one among non-artists. An artist who can feed their family and afford to send their children to school is much more likely in my experience to have the necessary time and creative headspace to produce really meaningful works.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

In many ways, I do not like lists of advice because I think that really these things are very situational. However, there are a few things I believe have probably contributed to my success.

  1. Choose early who you will be. Live that.
  2. Do what you say you will do. Always.
  3. Create win-win situations. People will prefer to do business with you and will be much more inclined to bring you new ideas and opportunities. Never take a short-term gain at someone else’s unfair expense.
  4. Execution is everything. Good ideas are surprisingly common, while good execution is surprisingly rare.
  5. Reinvest into your business generously and take advantage of financial leverage whenever possible.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Apart from inspiring more people to take the time to understand hyperrealist and realist art, the movement that I don’t want to inspire, as it is already started, but would like to see practiced more often, is effective altruism.

Effective altruism is essentially the idea that no matter who you are, there is only a finite amount of money that you can direct into philanthropic endeavors. Therefore, it is better to use it to maximize the social benefit of that money, based on evidence and reason, rather than just directing it to ‘feel good’ projects.

I believe that if more people followed this approach with the money they donate, the world really could become a better place.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

I would love to share a meal with Annie Leibovitz. I am interested in creative processes and hugely admire her work and believe that it would be fascinating to meet such a wonderful and interesting artist.

Thank you for these great insights. This was very inspiring!

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