Richard Kessler, who founded seven-store chain Kesslers Diamonds in 1980 and was the voice of its radio ads, has left the company.
“Since it is a personnel matter, we cannot share more detail,” the Germantown, Wis.–based company said in a terse statement.
“As a 100 percent employee-owned company, our employee owners are committed to continue moving the company forward,” it added. “We have had a leadership succession plan in place since July of 2017.”
Kessler, whose LinkedIn profile calls him the chain’s “former CEO,” did not return a request for comment.
Last year, the company appointed former bank executive Joe Gehrke as its president, with founder Kessler moving to the chief executive officer role.
Kesslers Diamonds is one of the few retail jewelers in the United States to be employee owned. In a 2015 interview with JCK, Kessler, who has spoken at JCK Las Vegas, explained how that came about.
“Fifteen years ago, we started involving employees in the business—by giving them 10 percent of the profits,” he said. “That meant we had to open our books to them and teach them how the business is run. In 2011, we finally formed an employee stock ownership plan [ESOP], where we basically turned over 49 percent of the company to the employees. It’s part of a long-term succession plan for me. Every year we put shares from the ESOP trust into employees’ accounts.
“Employees end up taking care of the business as though it were [solely] their own. There’s an investment there,” he added. “When we hire people, they go crazy when they hear about it—to think you’re going to work for a company and get to own a part of it right away. Some senior people don’t love it quite as much because it’s a long-term thing. It’s the young people who will benefit from it the most. But you can’t please everyone.”
This article has been updated to note that Kessler’s is not the only employee-owned jewelry retailer. At least one jewelry chain, DeVons Jewelers, is employee owned.
(Image via: LinkedIn)