Bendheim replaces Levinger as Colibri Group’s boss

There has been a major top management change at The Colibri Group. Thomas Bendheim has been appointed president and chief executive officer of the Providence, R.I.-based company, effective Monday, says a company announcement. Frederick N. Levinger, who built the company into one of the most successful and best-known U.S. suppliers of independent and chain jewelers, remains as non-executive chairman.

“I look forward to working with Mr. Bendheim during the transitional period as we position The Colibri Group for even greater growth,” said Levinger in the annoucnement.

Colibri employees and suppliers were informed of the change in a brief Dec. 8 memo from Levinger in which he said, “All executive positions that reported to me will now report to him [Bendheim].”

No explanation.was given for the change either in the memo or the official announcement. The Colibri Group earlier this year was bought by a group comprised of three major investment firms (including the largest in China) and Levinger.

Bendheim brings extensive brand and consumer marketing experience. He was most recently president and CEO of Rheingold Brewing, the beer company, since 2002. Prior to that, he was executive vice president and chief operating officer of Dooney & Bourke, a leading marketer and retailer of luxury handbags. He was instrumental in the revival of that brand. Earlier, he held senior management and marketing positions at PepsiCo and Lenox Brands (china, crystal, flatware, and giftware).

Levinger and his father bought Colibri in 1971, when it had annual sales of $1.3 million. Today, its does $100 million and has 500 employees. In recent years it made some strategic acquisition, including Krementz jewelry (1997), Seth Thomas clocks (2001), and Princess Pride lockets (2004).

“Our philosophy is not only to sell jewelry but also concepts and brands,” Levinger told JCK in June. “That was unusual [in the jewelry business] years ago, but it’s one way of differentiating yourself in the jewelry business and getting more of a focus than ever.”

In June 2005, Levinger sold Colibri to a group comprised of three major investment firms and himself. The transaction, effective June 13, opened potential business opportunities for Colibri overseas now does only 5 percent of its business, especially China.

Levinger remained as president and chief executive officer, giving special attention to marketing and new-product development.

At that time, no changes in the company’s management, its 500 employees, location, or operations were planned. In fact, the company had just signed a new lease for its headquarters building in Providence. “This sale is a very good thing for the employees,” Levinger told JCK in June. “No one is coming in to take over and make changes.”

He said then that the new owners would use Colibri Group for further acquisitions, though none are immediately planned.

The new owner/investors included the lead group, Founders Equity Inc., New York City; Main Street Resources, Westport, Conn.; and Citic Provident (the New York arm of China’s largest financial conglomerate, Citic Group), which had sought to invest in consumer goods and which the other two brought into the deal. Levinger was the fourth partner and a substantive shareholder.

The Colibri Group manufactures and distributes 18k gold, 14k gold, and sterling silver women’s and men’s jewelry under the brand names Van Dell, Shiman, Krementz, and Dolan & Bullock. It also manufactures and markets pocket and pendant watches, lighters, and executive gifts under the Colibri and Linden brands, and is the exclusive U.S. distributor of S.T. Dupont luxury writing instruments and lighters. Its other brands include Seth Thomas clocks and Princess Pride lockets.