Architects of Change

A few years ago, we at JCK decided to transform the December issue into our annual “Person of the Year” issue, the criteria for selection being “the individual who has had the most significant impact on the industry during the year.”

Some may be puzzled—or infuriated—by this year’s choice of Gareth Penny, the key player behind the Supplier of Choice program at De Beers (or, rather, the Diamond Trading Company, as it now prefers to be called). But the significance of an individual’s impact on the industry is measured by the amount of change his or her actions drive, not by whether the industry likes the results. We try to identify such change objectively rather than make a value judgment about it.

Roger Caras, the author, animal lover, and former national director of the ASPCA, once said, “Cats don’t like change without their consent.” People don’t like change without their consent either. Revolutions and mass uprisings aside, most people don’t embrace change in their daily lives, particularly if they’re not the architects of that change. People get used to a system, even a flawed one, and adjust to cope with its shortcomings. One may wish the system weren’t flawed, but if improving it will cause pain, most people would rather let it be and continue to cope. But eventually outside forces will compel change in a system that isn’t working anymore, and if it still doesn’t change, it will become extinct.

Such was the case with the old De Beers. When it was the only game in town, its customers grumbled about its shortcomings but continued to do business with it. But once there were alternatives in the rough diamond supply market, it became apparent that changes were necessary if De Beers was to stay in the game. Penny—whose interview with senior editor Rob Bates begins on page 58—stepped up to the plate to make those changes. Many of them aren’t popular, but in business, changes seldom are. Most business change is painful for someone—whether it’s employees getting squeezed to boost the bottom line, profit margins getting squeezed when a company is forced to comply with new labor laws, or customers disappointed because they’re no longer being served the way they used to be served.

Not all change is bad, though. As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, this industry deserves kudos for its efforts to improve the lives of others—evidenced not only by the contributions we’ve made to the Jewelers Charity Fund for Children but also by the help jewelers provide on the local level in communities across the United States. Given that jewelry is essentially a luxury product, it’s even more important that we remember those less fortunate as we’re enjoying our success. In this issue, senior editor William George Shuster profiles the efforts of retail jewelers helping in their own communities, while the industry dinner circuit is almost entirely devoted to charitable organizations. Even certain individuals in some of the industry’s other professional organizations make big efforts to help those less fortunate. The Chicago chapter of the Women’s Jewelry Association raises money to help disadvantaged women in that area get a new start, and members of the fledgling Pennsylvania chapter of WJA responded to a fall accessories drive to benefit area women making the difficult transition from welfare to work.

We at JCK wish you the happiest of holidays and much health, success, and prosperity, plus the will to drive a change for good. That may be classified as a “value judgment,” but we prefer to think of it just as a valuable goal.

The very best wishes to all of you from all of us here at JCK!

hschupak@reedbusiness.com