Levinger resigns as Colibri’s chairman

Frederick N. Levinger, 68, who built the Colibri Group into one of America’s leading suppliers of jewelers and other retailers, has resigned as non-executive chairman of the $100 million company. His resignation was effective Feb. 4.

The company’s clients include more than 7,000 independent retailers and national ones like Zale Corp. and Wal-Mart, with 5% of its business overseas. It’s headquartered in Providence, R.I., with manufacturing and distribution operations in Providence, Cranston and North Smithfield, R.I., and has 500 employees.

Levinger has been replaced as Colibri’s non-executive chairman by Warren Haber Jr., a principal in Founders Equity Inc., New York City, one of the major investors in the group to which Levinger sold Colibri in June 2005. (A non-executive chairman, a concept common in Europe but less so here, oversees a company’s board, separate from the chief executive officer who manages the business.)

Though he no longer has any operational or marketing responsibilities at Colibri, Levinger will be an on-call consultant and remains a member of its board and a partner in the investors group (which also includes Main Street Resources, of Westport, Conn., and Citic Provident, the New York-based arm of a major Chinese finance firm).

Levinger told JCK he resigned for “personal reasons,” but that he also felt “the new owners wanted new management … without the involvement I had before.” He was replaced by the board as president and CEO last December by Thomas Bendheim, 42, formerly president and CEO of Rheingold Brewing Co. At that time, he was named non-executive chairman of Colibri.

“I built it [Colibri Group] into a successful $100 million company,” he told JCK. “The challenge for them now is to maintain and build on that.”

When Levinger and his father bought Colibri in 1971, it was doing about $1.3 million a year, primarily in cigarette lighters. Over time, Levinger added 18k, 14k, and silver jewelry for women and men; watches, clocks, giftware and other accessories to the lighters. But, he didn’t simply sell jewelry, he told JCK in 2005, but “also concepts and brands. That was unusual years ago, but it’s one way of differentiating yourself in the jewelry business and getting more of a focus.” He also made strategic acquisitions, such as Krementz jewelry (1997), Seth Thomas clocks (2001), and Princess Pride lockets (2004).

Today, Colibri manufactures and distributes jewelry under the Van Dell, Krementz, Dolan & Bullock, and Shiman brands; pocket and pendant watches, lighters and executive gifts under the Colibri and Linden brands; Seth Thomas clocks; Princess Pride lockets, and is the exclusive U.S. distributor of S.T. Dupont luxury writing instruments and lighters.