Jonathan Goldman on Carrying on the Management Tradition His Dad Started 70 Years Ago



This year, Jonathan and Richard Goldman will celebrate their 40th year in the jewelry business; the brothers serve as CEO and president, respectively, of Frederick Goldman, the New York City–based company founded by their father in 1948. The Goldmans have turned their business into an industry powerhouse with an enviable stable of brands, from ArtCarved to Scott Kay. Recently, Jonathan spoke to JCK about what he learns from his children, what this industry can learn from others, and his father’s unusual method for laying out shirts.

Have any business books inspired you? 

I spend a lot of time reading a lot of books about different leaders within different industries. One book that I am reading that I think is terrific is The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone. I liked the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. Next up on my list is the book about Elon Musk [Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance].

Last year, I completed Restaurant Man by Joe Bastianich. He is a partner in [Italian marketplace] Eataly. The attention to detail that Joe puts in the restaurant is incredible. Steve Jobs was the same way. He was fanatical about how the glass was applied to the iPhone, the curve on the Mac. He was incredibly detail-oriented while paying attention to larger concepts. 

My father [Frederick] used to have an expression: “Trifles make perfection and perfection is no trifle.” He ran his business that way. He always believed in details. I tell my kids the story of how he would line up his shirts in color order so it looked like a rainbow. He would line up his change in the morning the same way every day: five quarters, five dimes, five nickels, and two subway tokens. It was his way of telling his sons that details matter.

In the 1970s, he put in computer systems. He got people from IBM to install them, and he was the first in the industry to do so. It was unbelievably advanced for its time and organized in such a way that we used it for years and years.

Do you have a specific method for managing people?

The first thing is to communicate a vision that people can get behind. Without a vision it’s tough to get people to want to follow and build a great business. After that it’s about open and clear communication and transparency. We tend to communicate a lot and are very transparent.

How does that work in practice?

We have a Monday morning meeting, then on a monthly basis we talk about numbers, and on a quarterly basis we meet with the entire staff. It’s about keeping everyone on strategy.  

What do you look for in new hires?

We want people who are a good cultural fit with the company. Integrity is important. We feel we can teach the discipline of what we do, but we can’t teach integrity. The other thing we look for is whether they are open to learning and not necessarily happy with the status quo. Are they open to questioning things? Do they think about whether there is a better way to do things? It’s about continually improving, and you have to be willing to listen. 

As a management team we tend to be curious people. We tend to ask a lot of good questions. We look for curious people who challenge the status quo. 

How do you ensure different viewpoints get communicated?

We are always open to listen, 24/7. We set up forums to do that. Our quarterly management meeting gives opportunities for people to provide us with ideas. It is fun to spend a couple of hours hearing the different ideas. We have put a lot of them into practice.

Is there anything else you feel is important about your company?

The culture of the company is important. We are a family business. We have been for 68 years. It is still run by Richard and myself. In all those years, it has never felt like work. It felt like we were having fun. We want to keep it fun for years to come. When it becomes work, you don’t succeed at the level that you want to. You need to keep it fresh. 

How do you keep it fun?

I think fun is being challenged. How do we do things that haven’t happened before? 

You obviously feel it’s important to learn from businesses outside the industry. 

I do. Our competition comes from not just inside the industry but outside it. There is a lot to be learned from looking at the consumer goods and technology industries. I think we have to continually be relevant. We need to spend some time with younger consumers—find out what they want, how they shop. How do we keep things exciting and fresh?

You talk about your children a lot. Are they helpful in understanding younger consumers?

Very helpful. I was thinking the other day: Where do I learn the most? It is from my children, for a number of reasons. They are in touch with what young people want. They are unbiased. They are interacting with different people than I might be. Their approach to issues and ideas is terrific. 

What advice would you give to someone just entering the industry?

You should think about where the white space is and how you can develop something that is different than what is already offered in the industry. How do you add value to develop and change and differentiate? 

 

Top: Jonathan (c.) and Richard Goldman honoring Jhone Pavlin, Scott Kay’s sales manager, national accounts, with the company’s Freddy Award

 

 

GOLDMAN’S PLANS FOR SCOTT KAY

In October, Jonathan Goldman spoke to JCK about his plans for the Scott Kay brand, which his company purchased in January 2015, shortly after Kay’s death. Among those plans: A new slogan (“A life together”); a platinum bridal line; a return to the brand’s signature purple; and a scholarship in Kay’s name at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where the designer studied. Some highlights of our conversation:

Why Frederick Goldman purchased Scott Kay: “We are in the mid-market space of the business. We always wanted to get in the top space. But it’s very hard.… Here is a brand that had 30 years of history and has great consumer recognition. We looked at it as an opportunity to acquire a great American brand that needs some love and care.”

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Luminaire round-cut mounting and band; starting at $5,150 and $1,350 for 14k white gold; Scott Kay, Teaneck, N.J.; 800-487-2724; scottkay.com

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Namaste round-cut mounting and band; starting at $4,875 and $1,675 for 14k white gold

Why they won’t soon run out of Kay designs: “Scott never stopped designing. His passion was design. It could be men’s, it could be belt buckles, it could be wedding pieces. Scott had thousands of designs in his design laboratory. We are in the process of cataloging all of it. It will take several months. It is unbelievable.”

Why Scott Kay appeals to today’s consumers: “Scott was a real spiritual guy. He worked from the heart. Everything with him had a meaning. It could be a family meaning; it could be based on things he saw in his travels around the world because he had all sorts of antiques. We will be training the retailers on what the collections mean—the spirituality. Meanings are very important to younger consumers. It’s one of the things that will help to differentiate the Scott Kay brand.” —RB