Posted on January 31, 2013
It’s a journalistic cliché to brand things the “end of an era,” but the resignation of Eli Izhakoff, who spent 13 years as the head of the World Diamond Council, really does represent a huge change for the industry. (Since I've gotten questions on this, I should note that Izhakoff’s decision to step down precedes the recent criticism of the WDC; he announced his resignation to his board at the WDC meeting in Vicenza last May.)
We can take stock of Izhakoff’s illustrious career when he officially departs on June 30. But today I’d like to talk about the future of the WDC, and where it goes from here.
As just about everyone acknowledges, Izhakoff will be hard to replace. Running the WDC—arguably the most important organization in the diamond industry—requires a long list of talents: diplomatic skills, mastering some very complicated issues, and trying to find common cause with a wide range of people, including NGOs, governments, the industry, and even—occasionally—some rather unsavory individuals. And the WDC’s plate is about to get fuller, when it begins running the KP’s new administrative support mechanism.
Some at the WDC hope to replace Izhakoff with a full-time professional (meaning: paid) executive director, and perhaps an administrative support person. This executive director may not come from inside the industry—as Eli, a former diamond dealer and bourse head, did—but could have experience in the association or government realm.
He or she will answer to an industry board, headed by a chair that may rotate among the different sectors of the trade. None of this, save perhaps the rotating industry sectors, is novel; it’s the classic structure of industry associations. But it hasn’t been how things have been done so far.
Here are my hopes for the WDC:
- When people talk about industry groups that take an upfront advocacy position on social issues, they usually mention the Responsible Jewellery Council, the Diamond Development Initiative, Rapaport Corp., and the American power trio of Jewelers of America/Jewelers Vigilance Committee/Diamond Manufacturers and Importers of America. They don’t generally talk about the WDC.
And yet, one might argue, that is the WDC’s role. It needs to be leading the parade here, advancing the discussion, and serving as a clearinghouse for ways to strengthen both the KP and industry ethics overall. Given the multitude of different interests that comprise the group, I'll admit, that's not very likely. But since many equate the WDC with the trade, it could boost the industry's image.
- Along those lines, we have discussed how the diamond business doesn’t have the same agreement on social issues today that it did in the past. And yet, in many of these discussions, such as on audited chains of custody, the various sides seem to be talking past each other. I've always felt if you got reasonable diamond people in the room, you would be able to at least find a way forward on some of these knotty issues.
What better forum for this than the WDC? The group’s annual meetings have long been characterized by speeches and lavish social events; those are fun, but the get-togethers need to include more serious discussions of the issues this industry faces.
- Finally, whoever takes over the WDC could also fill the long-vacant role of industry spokesman. A few weeks ago, a pair of articles appeared with wildly inflated statistics about blood diamonds. What was the industry’s response? If your answer was “none,” you would be correct.
Which is crazy. Consumers read these articles and take them seriously. The WDC needs to at least offer its side of the story. (That might not stop those assertions being printed, of course. But at least the industry will have given it a shot. Right now, it’s not even trying.) This doesn’t mean the trade should attempt to spin its way out of its problems, and it certainly doesn't mean not telling the truth about the very real problems that still exist. But it should state its case. And these things may work both ways. By engaging with skeptical journalists and consumers, whoever heads the WDC may get a better understanding of the consumer confidence challenges the industry faces.
In short, whoever follows Eli Izhakoff has a huge job. It will be fascinating to see where all this goes.