Connecting the Dots

fdallahan@reedbusiness.com

A characteristic of the jewelry industry at its best—and one that has always appealed to me—is trust. Trust is a fundamental part of any relationship. And in a business where the value of the products is high and the technical competence of the consumer is virtually nil, trust plays a crucial role in an individual business’s success. This industry is one that makes a special effort to provide retailers and consumers with confidence-building programs and processes to earn that trust.

Associations such as the Jewelers Vigilance Committee underscore the industry’s commitment to the principles of fairness and honesty. Similarly, the Gemological Institute of America, the American Gem Society, Jewelers of America, and other organizations foster knowledgeable, professional business conduct in the sale of jewelry. As an industry, we strive to do the right thing because it is the right thing.

In contrast, over the past few months we have seen examples of significant wrongdoing on the part of corporate executives who misrepresented the financial conditions of their firms through a variety of techniques. For example, by capitalizing some expenses instead of fully charging them to P&L, the profits of WorldCom were wildly overstated.

The Enron debacle is a tale of incompetence on the part of the former CEO and malfeasance by a CFO, both of whom engaged in self-enrichment to the detriment of their colleagues, employees, and shareholders.

The CEO of Tyco recently resigned in disgrace and has been indicted over efforts to avoid payment of sales taxes to New York state. Additionally, he is under scrutiny for the use of corporate funds to purchase millions in art for his personal apartment in New York.

The Catholic Church, too, has gone through a hellish few months with the coming-to-light of sordid tales of priests abusing children over long periods of time. What’s worse is the incompetent management of the church’s affairs by bishops who failed to take decisive action when it was required.

In the Middle East, murder and suicide are unrelenting, governments give money to families of suicide bombers, and a baby picture shows a child dressed as a terrorist—explosives belt and all.

The connection of these disparate events is the never-ending quest for power, privilege, and territory. In the case of Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, and the Catholic Church, we witness excessive central control, secret decision-making, and the effort to suppress dissent.

The jewelry business is a unique kind of business. The great majority of retail and manufacturing jewelers are trustworthy because their names are on the doors and their personal reputations are on the line every day. In the corporate world, people are replaceable cogs in the wheels of big commerce. Perhaps the corporate world could learn a valuable lesson in personal responsibility and the development of trust from the principles that make our business different.