JCK Invitational Speakers Discuss Secrets of Leadership

An impressive roster of A-list speakers headlined the first JCK NYC Invitational, held in March at the Hilton New York hotel.

In his keynote address on “Principles of Leadership,” former two-term mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani, listed the “six qualities of a leader”:

  1. Figure out what you believe. Know what you stand for, and, like the captain of a ship, know your destination.

  2. Be an optimist. You not only have more fun with a positive outlook on life but also need one to follow your dreams and lead others. He recalls legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once insisted, after losing a game, that he didn’t lose, he just ran out of time.

  3. Have courage. This is not the absence of fear. Fears are normal. Courage is the ability to understand risk and work through it.

  4. Prepare relentlessly. This means figuring out your risk and reducing it. He gave the example of a New York City policeman who jumped into the Hudson River to rescue someone, only to be intimidated by a press conference lauding him later. The policeman faced high risk every day in his job and had schooled himself to work through it, but when faced with public speaking, it was out of the realm of his experience.

  5. Teamwork. A good leader can’t accomplish anything alone, but must be good at selecting other people to work with.

  6. Communicate your ideas to those other people and motivate them. To be successful, leaders have to care about and even love their people.

Leadership was also on the mind of the second keynote speaker, the legendary former chief executive officer of General Electric, Jack Welch.

“A leader has four qualities of Es,” Welch said. “A leader has to have energy, which is inherent—either you have it or you don’t. A leader has to be able to energize his or her people, which is a learned skill. A leader has to have an edge and be decisive, and a leader has to be able to execute and get things done. These are all learned skills.

“But a leader also has to wrap it all in P—passion—and I think that’s something that’s inherent and comes from the womb,” he said.

When moderator and JCK editor-in-chief, Hedda Schupak, asked him what jewelers should do if they have an underperforming family member, he advised jewelers to “take care of the situation so that it doesn’t mess up their business.”

He added, “You have to deal with it, family or not. There’s nothing worse or more demoralizing than having the rest of the staff seeing a ne’er-do-well loafing in the office. It’s a surefire way to lose good talent and find it hard to recruit good talent.”

He said businesspeople should generally use their “gut”—but not when hiring. “When hiring people, your gut can be wrong,” he said. “That seems counterintuitive, but hiring is an emotional reaction, and you can fall in love with the person—with their experience, the school they went to, the lines they give you. It’s better to really dig for references and really listen to why they left their previous job.”

In terms of managing change, Welch said it didn’t matter whether someone embraced change or merely adapted to it—as long as he or she didn’t resist it. “Resistors have to go,” he said. And if all someone can do is pine for the good old days or talk about how things used to be, you have to shoot them, he quipped.

He also said that businesses have to fight commoditization. “Don’t make something everyone else does,” he said. “All your margins will collapse. You have to offer a unique value, and there’s a lot of uniqueness and emotion in diamond jewelry.”

Finally, Schupak asked Welch for advice on choosing a successor, whether in a corporate or a family business environment. He said to make sure the person has experience in all areas of the business. If they’ve been in marketing, move them to operations for a while. If they’re engineers, put them on the front service line.

He said once a successor is chosen, the others vying for the position should leave the company so as not to create pockets of resistance and resentment, even unwittingly. But it’s also important for the employees to know what the succession plan is. Most employees don’t care who the CEO is, but they do care who their boss is going to be. And they want to know how the company is doing.

“Transparency is key,” he said. “Most bosses who think knowledge is power and want to hoard that power by not being transparent are really just insecure.”

Finally, Alyce Alston, CEO of De Beers LV USA, discussed some of what makes the new De Beers stores unique:

Counters. Alston put her hand at her waist to demonstrate the typical height of a jewelry-store counter and then lifted her hand to show the height of a De Beers counter. A higher counter means the customer doesn’t have to bend as far to see the merchandise. De Beers’ counters are also freestanding, allowing a customer to walk all the way around, and a salesperson to walk with the customer instead of sitting behind the counter. “It’s a side-by-side selling experience [instead of a barrier],” said Alston.

Floor-length mirrors. Alston said a customer wants to see the jewelry with her whole outfit, not just the neck or ears.

Armchairs. The De Beers store offers overstuffed chairs for customers to sit and relax, not just chairs at the counters for selling. “You won’t find armchairs in Tiffany, Harry Winston, or Cartier. Good luck trying to find a place to sit down,” she quipped.

Navigational signs. “This debunks the myth that you can’t have signs in a luxury store. You can if it’s done tastefully.” De Beers’ signs point the way to its bridal and high-end jewelry collections, both on the store’s second level.

A bridal bar. “We don’t get customers drunk, but they can sit on bar-style stools, or go relax in the bridal lounge area. It’s just plain fun,” Alston said. The bridal lounge offers a wide low couch and coffee tables, much like an elegant nightclub.

Showing prices. “There’s a price tag on a Maserati car and an Oscar de la Renta gown. You can show prices in a tasteful way, and it’s time we communicate to the consumer what’s for them and what’s not.” De Beers’ cases show the price range for what’s in that particular case, rather than the individual price per piece.

High-end collections on display. “We show our jewelry. In lots of stores, it’s like the customer is interviewing for a diamond. They sit at a corporate desk and the salesperson brings out the diamonds they want to show. This isn’t a corporate transaction.”

Alston said in the focus groups she’s asked about the stores, typically two out of 10 participants didn’t like them, preferring the old-fashioned “gold brocade” type of atmosphere, but eight out of 10 participants loved it.