Did Donna Baker Resign From GIA Over Something Boring?

Ever since Donna Baker resigned from GIA a few weeks ago, industry speculation has been rampant as to why it happened. Two items fueled the fire: 1) she resigned abruptly, without even saying goodbye to the employees; and 2) a notice in the press release said she resigned over “differing views on the direction of GIA.”

Which raises the question: What were those disagreements? This is especially important considering the direction of the Gemological Institute of America has significance for the larger industry. 

I am told that the GIA does plan to address in more detail what those differences were at some point—though nothing has emerged yet. And, in a gossipy industry like ours, the people who know are keeping remarkably tight-lipped. No one seems to have heard from Baker either. (Donna, write us; we would love to do an exit interview!) Some of the speculation I have heard is pretty wild.

Given the tangled recent history at GIA, many people assumed the worst. But I am hearing that the cause of Baker’s resignation did not involve anything the outside world would find particularly troubling.

In fact, it is looking like the disagreement may be about things that, at least for those of us on the outside, seem somewhat mundane and perhaps not as relevant to the trade at large as it first appeared. For instance, one of the flashpoints—though perhaps not the only one—seems to be the institute’s ongoing workplace efficiency program called Lean. (GIA declined comment, except to refer JCK to its statement.)  

Baker has an MBA and seemed to stress running GIA like a business. And if you look at the business now done by the GIA lab, she was quite successful at it. I am told her skills were such that she would be capable of running a Fortune 500 company. 

Lean is a management system meant to improve employee performance. GIA now has several employees who are “Lean administrators.” Interim president Susan Jacques says that GIA “does have an institute-wide improvement program that uses some of the tools and techniques generally referred to as ‘Lean.’ That program is ongoing.”

According to the Lean Enterprise Institute, the system was originated by Toyota in the late 1980s. Its focus is continuous improvement and eliminating waste. It gives employees the ability to ferret out inefficiencies and improve systems. But it has also received criticism for making the workplace “too clinical and impersonal.”    

In any case, the pros and cons of Lean are not that relevant to most of my readers. Which brings me to my final point. I understand the GIA higher-ups are in a sensitive position here—Baker was, by most accounts, an excellent executive who had the respect of board members, even if her vision eventually collided with theirs. (See a sympathetic assessment of her tenure here.) But I think at some point the leadership needs to stop the gossip train once and for all—especially since that chatter has been largely fueled by the statement that GIA itself released.

If the disagreement with Baker was, as it appears, over an internal matter like Lean, or some related dispute over how the institute is managed—basically, style over substance—that is of limited interest to the vast majority of us who do not work there. But if there was, as the statement implies, disagreement about some heretofore hidden larger issue, something that really does concern GIA’s overall direction, then that should be relayed, too. Because that ultimately affects the entire industry.

For now, it seems the fallout from Baker’s resignation could be handled a lot more, shall we say, efficiently. And we don’t need Lean to tell us that.

JCK News Director