Raff Shakes ‘Em Up at Helzberg

Beryl Raff’s taking over as Helzberg Diamonds chief executive officer has led to a shake-up on the merchandising team. Four or so key merchandisers have either retired or left, including people long associated with the chain like John Doherty and Oliver Keene.

This has led observers to wonder where the company is headed. Bringing in Beryl Raff would seem to indicate the company is going in a more promotional direction. However, one of her new hires is from Bailey, Banks and Biddle and Movado Boutiques, which would seem to indicate the opposite.

One thing is for sure: Raff’s abrupt replacement of former CEO Marvin Beasley in April was a big shock to the company’s corporate culture. Generally, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, which owns Helzberg, does not interfere with its companies, and tends to promote from within.

Kimberley Process in Turmoil

Ian Smillie was a firm believer in the Kimberley Process, the governmental certification scheme designed to stop conflict diamonds from entering the mainstream of commerce. He and his nongovernmental organization, Partnership Africa Canada, were nominated for a Nobel Prize in 2003 for their work in creating it.

But in May, Smillie walked away from the KP in disgust, citing its inability to react to recent problems.

At issue are the controversial regimes in Zimbabwe and Venezuela. In Zimbabwe, the NGO Human Rights Watch recently released a report charging there were killings, forced labor, torture, and beatings by the Zimbabwe army in the country’s diamond fields. (The country’s government has denied these reports.)

Smillie says the KP has been slow to take action against Zimbabwe. “The government of South Africa is really protective of the Mugabe regime,” he says. “Some governments are placing their small regional political interests over the interest of the diamond industries.”

At issue is the definition of blood diamonds. While the diamonds in question may not be conflict diamonds under the traditional definition, Smillie and others argue the KP needs to pay more attention to human rights issues related to the diamond industry.

As for Venezuela, the country has long been noncompliant with the KP and was expelled from it last year. But Smillie said that action just condones diamond smuggling. “Diamonds are still being dug and being sold in Venezuela,” he said. “You only have to go to border towns to see it.”

Smillie continued: “The Kimberley Process can work. It should be able to work. The problem is the willingness to make it work. The NGOs are not there to pretend that things are working when they’re not. At least I’m not. At some point you just admit to yourself that there are better things you could do with your time.”

Partnership Africa Canada will stay involved in the KP and was vocal with its criticisms at the recent KP Plenary. Still, many KP supporters called Smillie’s departure a blow.

And the diamond industry’s image remains vulnerable. Over Memorial Day weekend, ABC aired a fictionalized two-part TV movie called Diamonds, filled with gruesome scenes inside Sierra Leone and an evil company patterned on De Beers. While the movie did badly in the ratings—one site called its numbers “pathetic”—it was still seen by some 4 million viewers.

Beryl Raff’s taking over as Helzberg Diamonds chief executive officer has led to a shake-up on the merchandising team. Four or so key merchandisers have either retired or left, including people long associated with the chain like John Doherty and Oliver Keene.

This has led observers to wonder where the company is headed. Bringing in Beryl Raff would seem to indicate the company is going in a more promotional direction. However, one of her new hires is from Bailey, Banks and Biddle and Movado Boutiques, which would seem to indicate the opposite.

One thing is for sure: Raff’s abrupt replacement of former CEO Marvin Beasley in April was a big shock to the company’s corporate culture. Generally, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, which owns Helzberg, does not interfere with its companies, and tends to promote from within.

Kimberley Process in Turmoil

Ian Smillie was a firm believer in the Kimberley Process, the governmental certification scheme designed to stop conflict diamonds from entering the mainstream of commerce. He and his nongovernmental organization, Partnership Africa Canada, were nominated for a Nobel Prize in 2003 for their work in creating it.

But in May, Smillie walked away from the KP in disgust, citing its inability to react to recent problems.

At issue are the controversial regimes in Zimbabwe and Venezuela. In Zimbabwe, the NGO Human Rights Watch recently released a report charging there were killings, forced labor, torture, and beatings by the Zimbabwe army in the country’s diamond fields. (The country’s government has denied these reports.)

Smillie says the KP has been slow to take action against Zimbabwe. “The government of South Africa is really protective of the Mugabe regime,” he says. “Some governments are placing their small regional political interests over the interest of the diamond industries.”

At issue is the definition of blood diamonds. While the diamonds in question may not be conflict diamonds under the traditional definition, Smillie and others argue the KP needs to pay more attention to human rights issues related to the diamond industry.

As for Venezuela, the country has long been noncompliant with the KP and was expelled from it last year. But Smillie said that action just condones diamond smuggling. “Diamonds are still being dug and being sold in Venezuela,” he said. “You only have to go to border towns to see it.”

Smillie continued: “The Kimberley Process can work. It should be able to work. The problem is the willingness to make it work. The NGOs are not there to pretend that things are working when they’re not. At least I’m not. At some point you just admit to yourself that there are better things you could do with your time.”

Partnership Africa Canada will stay involved in the KP and was vocal with its criticisms at the recent KP Plenary. Still, many KP supporters called Smillie’s departure a blow.

And the diamond industry’s image remains vulnerable. Over Memorial Day weekend, ABC aired a fictionalized two-part TV movie called Diamonds, filled with gruesome scenes inside Sierra Leone and an evil company patterned on De Beers. While the movie did badly in the ratings—one site called its numbers “pathetic”—it was still seen by some 4 million viewers.