Interview with Retiring JA CEO Matt Runci

Following the announcement that he will retire at the end of 2012 after 17 years with Jewelers of America, the organization’s president and CEO Matthew A. Runci very generously took some time to talk with JCK today:

Any thoughts on stepping down?

Well, I feel when the moment’s right, the moment’s right. I firmly believe that everyone is replaceable and it’s always good to move on on your terms at a time of your own choosing, than to be told you are there too long. I just want to move on with my life and spend a little time goofing off. I feel I’ve worked hard and now maybe I can spend my time doing a little less work. 

I also felt that January was the best time to tell the board. It gives them a full year to find a replacement who can start with us in the fall. Hopefully there will be an overlapping period [between CEOs].

Will you stay involved with Jewelers of America and the Responsible Jewellery Council?

That really hasn’t been considered yet. I am happy to be available to advise RJC or JA any time they wish but the people leading those organizations need to feel they can make decisions without prior leadership hanging around.

Any thoughts on what kind of replacement you would like to see?

This may not answer your question, but I think one of the things that has enabled me to do my job is I’ve always tried to see the industry as an outsider would see it, but understand it as an insider understands it. There is sometimes quite a distance between the two. The industry understands itself well but sometimes doesn’t take the time to consider how others see it. It laments that people see jewelers as lacking trust and yet doesn’t always help itself. This is an industry with a well-defined culture largely defined by history, and it sometimes searches for the answers to its problems in the past. I think the industry would benefit from continuing to have the perspective of someone who understands it but also has a perspective different from the industry. 

Ultimately the search committee has wisely decided to cast a net broadly and examine candidates from within the industry but also from outside the industry. The position description will be posted to JA’s website and will be widely posted in a number of places.

Obviously you still have a year left to serve as CEO, but is there anything you are particularly proud of over your tenure? 

When I arrived at JA, what I heard people saying was, this is a good organization, they had sold the shows, they have all this money, and the board was kind of clamoring for a new purpose and what can define JA going forward. There were all sorts of suggestions. We started at looking at establishing professionalism to a greater extent and that led to a number of things. 

When conflict diamonds presented themselves, the industry suddenly found itself in a bigger world. That led to the decision to begin to examine the supply chain and set out a code of conduct for JA and ultimately to reach out to partners in the supply chain and form what is now known as the RJC. There is a lot more work to be done and there continue to be controversies that surround the industry but my greatest sense of achievement is I was able to help JA define its purpose.

I assume you didn’t plan to make your career in the jewelry business.

My career in this industry has been very much an accident and my staying in this industry was not planned. I had been in the university teaching [international relations] and I had been offered tenure. I decided if I had accepted I would never leave. A life in the classroom was not what I had envisioned and frankly it was difficult to support a family.

It was a scary move. I remember walking into the office of the president and telling him I was declining tenure. That was not well received. I moved to Rhode Island with the hope that I would eventually find something. I was referred by a chum to the guy who was then running MJSA, and it turns out they had a government relations job. So I signed up for what I thought was a two-year hitch and I thought, I can do this job and then figure out what I want to do with my life. I ended up staying there 16 years, eventually becoming CEO. 

[After I joined JA], in the late 1990s the industry and JA were confronted by this issue of social responsibility. I found myself uniquely trained by virtue of my background to get involved in what is now known as stakeholder engagement. When I left academic work I was actually working on a book on human rights and American foreign policy. So in a completely unexpected way I found my career coming full circle. I guess things happen for a reason but none of this was planned. 

Any other message you want to send to the industry?

I just want to thank everybody who has been part of my career, from back in the MJSA days through my years with JA. I am not completely looking back, but maybe I’ll have a chance to say some final farewells at the end of the year.

JCK News Director