Hiring Guru: Peter Lik -- Artist Through a Lens

I'm honored to present you my interview with the wildly successful fine artist Peter Lik. Already a famous Master Photographer with a place secured in art history, last year Peter Lik Fine Art Photography sold the most expensive photograph ever, "Phantom" for world-record $6.5 million. His collectors are passionate and he rewards them and his fans with a blog and constant interaction with his amazing life of adventure.

Peter stands as a testament to a career artist with a team of professionals forwarding his visionary artistry. He's hand-picked the core members and done so with passion and a system with attention to detail I applaud. As does his art, he has a unique perspective on hiring.

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To what degree do you keep your finger on the pulse of hiring for your ventures?

"Having the right team of Sales Associates and Gallery Directors representing my work has always been extremely important to me. In 2003, when I opened my first U.S. gallery in Hawaii, LIK LAHAINA, I was on the front lines - constantly working the gallery floor and assisting with potential collectors, while teaching my staff exactly how to create the right atmosphere of comfort and tranquility. I was so fortunate to have such a receptive and professional group of blokes to start things off with. That experience really got the ball rolling. That amazing team then trained the next new staff at LIK CAESARS in Vegas when it opened in 2005 and so on. Since then, we have developed a very effective hiring and training program that I am always updating to fit with my business model and needs as an artist and owner. I am always meeting with the heads of our national sales team and visit my galleries throughout the year to ensure our visitors and collectors are receiving the same level hospitality and care that I would expect myself."

How important is it to keep personally connected to the process of adding new talent/personnel to your team?

"It is more important now than ever before. As we continue to grow, break sales records, and add new galleries and products to our slate the stakes become a bit higher - I have never been more concerned with quality of personnel representing my art. Right after the record sale of Phantom was verified by McGladrey LLP, Las Vegas, Nevada, we started receiving a large amount of applications and resumes for sales candidates. However, it is important that we discern between candidates looking for a quick payday and those who actually enjoy the challenges of the business. That is why we have recently divided our Director of Sales position into three regional positions. Having three directors responsible for 14 galleries makes managing and hiring so much easier, swifter and more efficient. All final hires undergo a lengthy vetting and training process before they officially step onto a gallery floor. Over the course of roughly 12 years, we have truly cultivated an incredible sales team that I have tremendous trust and faith in."

Do you have any hard-fast rules that are followed in your own selection of team members or those who will be working close with you? 

"The most important thing is an appreciation for the beautiful world around us and to have a passion about the product they are selling. If a potential sales associate or creative staff member shares a passion for Mother Nature, particularly through the camera lens, then they are off to a good start. Without that characteristic, how could I expect someone to enthusiastically participate in our program? Of course, professionalism, intelligence, experience, and skill are all factors that need to be considered as well."

What do you look for in an employee selling your art?

"I definitely look for a sense of passion in landscape photography; I look for an understanding of how precious this planet is and how beautiful Mother Nature has made it. That is a great starting point for my employees. Communication is also key. My employees need to be able to connect with anyone who steps foot in the gallery door - not an easy skill to acquire."

Do you have an anecdote or philosophy to share that comes to mind that would sum up your thoughts about hiring?

"Someone that has a positive attitude and an eagerness to learn will clearly make the best candidate, even if they have hardly any experience; you can teach them and mold them into the team member you need them to be. On the other hand, someone with tons of experience can tend to be a bit close-minded when it comes to new sales approaches or working styles, and you gotta watch out for those signs early on in the hiring process. If somehow you've found a very experienced professional with a positive attitude and a completely open mind - that is as close to perfection as you will get. Hire them!"

Best interview question you've used?

"Good question. It's actually a topic that always comes up at our Annual Director Conference - we're always discussing innovative ways to conduct in-depth interviews. A great tactic that I have used is asking a potential hire to describe for me one of my photographs - as if I am a client. You really get a sense of their understanding of both photography and the beauty of nature. You get to see how they communicate and what attitude they display. Essentially, I want them to try and sell me."

Interesting how this so beautifully aligns with Truth 5: Creative Questions Get the Answers You Really Want from my book The Naked Interview: Hiring Without Regret. Peter is adding an element which requires the candidate to reveal an authenticity of who they really are.

What has driven you in building such success as an artist?

"My drive is my love for what I do. For over 30 years, I have spent every single day capturing the beauty of Mother Nature and I can't imagine ever doing anything else. Challenging myself by growing my business just helps to ensure I can keep doing what I do best - and in the ways I see fit. It seems like just yesterday I was choosing between gas for my beat up van and a meal. Now, through the success of LIK USA, I am flying to Europe, Asia and other far off spots that I once only dreamed of shooting. My passion and dedication to the art form are qualities that have helped me push the boundaries of fine art photography and create my own reality."

How did you first decide to open your own galleries?

"In 1999, after almost 20 years of obsessively shooting everything I could, I knew I needed to take my career to the next level. I had already been to the States, where I'd learned about the panoramic format camera and my work was stronger than ever. A buzz had started to grow around me in my hometown of Queensland, Australia and I was able to get the support I needed to get my first gallery going. It was an instant success and it proved I could have locations that sold my work exclusively - as opposed to traditional galleries that sell works by multiple artists. My sights quickly turned to America, where I had already spent so much time and had absolutely fallen in love with the landscape. Through hard work and persistence, I was able to get the same love and support in The States that I had received in Australia. Fourteen galleries later and we're still going strong - I almost can't believe it. I'm extremely grateful."

In those galleries, did you hire the first employees?

"I WAS the first employee! As I mentioned earlier, LIK LAHAINA, was a great learning experience. I put the entire team together myself and it served as a preliminary model for all future endeavors. We all worked on the gallery floor together and created a strong foundation. If I hadn't been the one to set the initial tone of this adventure in fine art photography, things could have gone way off course."

If you had to start again, would you hire in the same manner?

"Absolutely. Our hiring system has evolved into a well-oiled machine. We have kept an open mind the whole way and adapted as necessary. Wouldn't change a thing!"

Interview by David Jensen for The Huffington Post