GIA Version 5.0

For most in the diamond industry, the term “strategic review” has ominous connotations. It’s the phrase De Beers used when it consulted with Bain and Co. and then proceeded to turn itself—and the industry—inside out. But Gemological Institute of America president Donna Baker, only the fifth president in the institute’s history, doesn’t expect a similarly dramatic outcome from GIA’s strategic review, conducted by Alliance Consulting.

The review, which will run through the first half of 2007, will simply look at “what GIA can do better,” Baker told JCK in an exclusive interview. “How can we be more responsive to our various constituencies?”

The review was initiated last year when Baker became acting president after William E. Boyajian resigned following 20 years as the institute’s head. When Baker received the permanent nod in November, it was seen as a mandate for the strategic review process and having the institute looked at with “fresh eyes.”

Baker described the review as a “natural step” after the prior year’s turmoil, especially since both she and lab director Tom Moses are new to their jobs. “Tom’s new in his position, I’m new in mine,” she said. “With this change in leadership, it seemed a good opportunity to get a basic understanding of where we are and where we’re going.”

Moses noted that the industry has also undergone major changes, and the review will examine how GIA might react to them. “Our core customer, the independent retailer, is beginning to fade away,” said Moses, whose official title is senior vice president, GIA laboratory and research. “So how do we service this new kind of customer—whether it’s a big customer, or a big-box chain—as an education organization, or as a lab?”

Baker said GIA’s “core mission” will stay the same: “ensuring the public trust in gems and jewelry.” And she doubts the institute will attempt any dramatic steps, such as spinning off its lab, which was suggested frequently in the aftermath of last’s year’s lab scandal.

But she also said GIA was taking a “hard look” at how it operates. “We are listening very carefully to what our constituencies need. We want GIA to be more transparent, more responsive, and more accountable. You will see a noticeable difference in these areas by the year’s end.”

The review will scrutinize what is arguably GIA’s most important component: its lab. For all its problems, the lab is still considered the most prestigious, thorough, and well known in the industry. But in 2004 it famously fired four graders for being “improperly influenced” by clients. That widely publicized scandal vaulted Baker and Moses into their current positions.

The lab still has other problems, including perpetually delayed turnaround times that, many have complained, interfere with trade business. So it’s no coincidence that one of Alliance Consulting’s specialties is in operations and that improving lab service is now a top priority for GIA. “You will see better turnaround times within the next year,” Baker promised. Moses added, “In the end, our success will be in the performance and response time.”

The lab will also become more interactive and might install new software for its Web site, to allow reports to be downloaded once they’re available.

GIA also wants to expand its international presence. It has opened a laboratory in Bangkok, Thailand, with Ken Scarratt heading the research. Gary DuToit, from the American Gem Trade Association’s lab, has joined Scarratt for a record third time.

GIA also is ensuring that all of its laboratories have expensive, high-tech instruments such as LA-ICP-MS, which determines elemental quantity of difficult-to-detect enhancements. New reports are also in the offing. (See sidebar.)

The lab may hire new staff. “We’re really looking for that good core of staff who really care to get it right,” said John King, the lab’s technical director.

Moses looks back at the legacy of the recently deceased former lab director G. Robert Crowningshield as inspiration for the future. “Bob did it all,” Moses said. “Think of all the great contributions he made to GIA and gemology. But I’m reminded by all of the people who knew him what great people skills he had. I’m afraid we lost some of that along the way, and I hope that we can regain that and expand our sphere of influence. We have to create that spirit in the new generation of gemologists. We have a great responsibility.”