Lessons (Still) To Be Learned

I’m pleased to begin my new monthly column for JCK in this issue. My column will be a commentary on some of the macro issues our industry is confronting these days. There are certainly enough of them.

My goal is to help you take a new view of the sea changes occurring; suggest where it all may be going; and offer ideas about how to adapt, wherever one is in the value chain. Sometimes I hope to be provocative, looking to test the limits of our paradigms; other times I’ll just open some issues and ask some questions.

Recently, I spoke in Antwerp at the invitation of the University of Antwerp Management School (UAMS). The school is offering courses in a new section called the Diamond and Jewelry Management Institute (DJM), which was created with the support and involvement of leaders in the Antwerp diamond trade. I was a guest lecturer for two days, focusing on strategic planning, sales techniques, and market conditions, as part of a two-week, flexible-module program for the diamond and jewelry business.

My class was a good group of 20 who came from all over the world. Six were from South Africa, all of them involved in mining or on the export control board. One came from Namibia. One was from a Swiss investment company, boning up for potential investments in this industry. One was from Kuwait, where he is finishing a new jewelry factory. Then there were attendees from banks, HRD, and the press. One person came from the only jewelry manufacturer in Belgium. And, of course, there were two people from Antwerp diamond companies.

Two? At first I was surprised, but after further thought, it wasn’t so surprising. The day before, a French marketing professor gave a solid presentation to the same group, and in the days following my classes, the groups were no larger. Everything I heard about the sessions confirmed the serious conditions prevalent in the diamond manufacturing trade: Companies have blown big bucks trying to get further downstream, and many are now licking their wounds and wondering what to do next. And it’s not just in Antwerp but in Mumbai, Tel Aviv, and New York as well.

The very fabric of the traditional diamond business is being torn apart, yet while there is a well- organized educational program not 10 minutes walk down the street, only two local diamond people show up? What is going on here? (Never mind that there are people attending these classes who could be suppliers or co-venturers.)

It should be noted that banks, HRD, and a number of diamond people are well tuned in. Their concern is the future of Antwerp as a center, and maybe that is a subject to discuss in another column. In the meantime, much of the traditional trade is waiting for the world to come to them. While they wait, I saw and heard the enthusiasm of Africans and Asians who are not worried that things are not what they used to be: They are only thinking about things the way they will be.