Quick Question

Auctioneer Lydia Fenet Has Raised $1 Billion For Charity — Here's How It All Started

Her life story is being developed by Netflix with Kiernan Shipka attached to the series.

Originally Published: 

In Bustle’s Quick Question, we ask women leaders all about advice — from the best guidance they’ve ever gotten to what they’re still figuring out. Here, Lydia Fenet, a world-renowned charity auctioneer, Christie's ambassador, and bestselling author shares her best career advice, how she handles stage fright, and what she does to unwind after a long day.

Lydia Fenet barely knew what the auctioning industry was when she started her career. As a student at the University of the South in Tennessee in 1997, Fenet read a Vanity Fair story about Princess Diana’s decision to sell 79 of her dresses through Christie’s, one of the world’s leading auction houses. It planted a seed of curiosity that eventually became a passion. “It completely captivated my attention and I just had to learn more,” Fenet tells Bustle.

After that, Fenet, an art history major, started telling everyone she brushed shoulders with that she wanted to work at Christie’s. About six months later, she happened to meet someone who gave her the phone number of the auction house’s internship coordinator. By the time she got a hold of her, Fenet was told the internships for the summer were already completely full. But “no” was simply not a viable answer to her, so she called her again. And again. And again. And after two months, Fenet secured an internship for that summer.

Now, 25 years after coming across that Vanity Fair story, Fenet is a renowned charity auctioneer, Christie’s ambassador, and bestselling author. She has raised over $1 billion for hundreds of different philanthropic organizations, and she still remembers the magic she felt that first summer at Christie’s.

“Once I got my foot in the door, I never wanted to leave. I was shredding paper and wiping tables and helping recode departments that had been renamed but I didn't care,” she says. “I just felt like I was in the proximity of this incredibly interesting world where things were sold that are usually in museums. Art became a living, breathing thing.”

Commanding a room and engaging an audience is also an art form, according to Fenet, and while she believes she was born to be on stage, it’s her goal to help other women feel secure in their respective paths. She published her debut book The Most Powerful Woman In The Room Is You in 2019 and her second book, Claim Your Confidence, came out in March 2023. She also has a podcast by the same name.

“It’s a series of small things over the course of your life that builds confidence,” she says. “The more you put yourself out there, the more you gain trust in yourself, and ultimately that's how you claim it.”

Here, Fenet shares the advice she wishes she got at the start of her career, how she approaches public speaking, and why having genuine friends can make anything feel possible.

How do you pump yourself up before a big meeting or presentation?

A good run, or jumping on a SoulCycle bike at the gym to really loud music. I mean, if it's David Guetta, if it has a beat, not only will I dance to it, but I will get my daughters to dance to it. Exercise keeps me grounded, and focused, and makes me feel really good.

Have you always felt comfortable with public speaking?

Not at all. It's all learned from being on stage — wanting to be on stage and being good on stage are two completely different things, I learned very quickly. The earlier decade of my charity auctioneering career was pretty mundane. I would say numbers to the audience and the audience would nod, but what I realized after doing it for 10 years is the audience wants to be entertained. I have a really strong sense of humor, I have a good sense of reading a crowd, and I realized if I really pushed into that side of my personality, it would make the audience come to life as well.

When was a moment when you knew you were good at your job?

[There was] a moment on stage with Matt Damon where I’d been told he was going to get on stage, and right before he got on stage, he started calling me Lindsay [instead of Lydia]. I had that split second where I was thinking, "Do I just go with Lindsay?" I mean, half the audience knows me, but this is Matt Damon. Then I told myself, "Wait a second. I've got to say something.” So eventually I corrected him and he had a great sense of humor about it.

Later, he had to come on stage with me during the auction and said, “Everyone, I just want to say, Lindsay, this is a joke we have," and I was like, "There's no joke. They told me there was some guy named Mike Diamond who's a struggling actor from Long Island who's going to be getting on stage," and he was dying with laughter. It really put to practice what I already knew, which is people are people, everyone puts their boots on the same way in the morning. At the end of the day, we're all human, and humor always wins.

How do you turn your brain off after a long day?

Never reaching for a screen. [Instead,] reading a book, settling into bed, and giving myself the gift of words and knowledge as opposed to just scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. It soothes my mind for sure. And cuddling with my kids.

What do you need advice on?

Industries that I don't know about. For instance, I sold my first book to Netflix and I'm constantly seeking advice on how to get the word out about that or to learn more about the process of the movie industry. Anytime I find myself in a different genre where I don't know something, I'm constantly seeking knowledge from other people. Even with podcasting, I've only done seven episodes of my podcast, so I feel like I'm voracious when it comes to interviewing people about their podcasts just so I have a better understanding of the industry as a whole.

Who do you go to for advice?

My friends and my mom. I have an unbelievably supportive and successful group of friends. One of the things I tell people all the time is to surround yourself with supportive people who are with you in the good and the bad. Because it's sometimes harder to be a friend when someone's successful than it is when things are going wrong in their life, and you really find the true measure of your friends when they’re cheerleading when things are going well for you.

What would you tell someone just starting off in your industry?

Work hard and chart your own path. Don't expect someone to look at you and think that they are going to create the path for you because ultimately you know what you're good at and you need to figure out what it is that you want.

Who was your role model now vs. then?

My mom is always going to be my role model because she is an amazing mom to all of us. She's not in my industry and frankly, being a mom was her full-time role, but that's a role that I take so seriously and I really lean on her for everything. She helps take care of my children when I travel so that I can have the space to do events and interviews without any interruption, which is such a gift.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don't look around and worry about what other people are thinking about. Worry about what is within and do the work on yourself.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

This article was originally published on