Pattie Light

A children’s hospital gets a bone marrow transplant center. A boy with a catastrophic illness fulfills his dream to play with dolphins. African clinics get support and medication to counsel HIV-positive mothers on how to avoid infecting their babies. A
little boy with a rare genetic disorder lives, thanks to bone marrow and stem cell transplants. A seriously ill teenage girl in India gets a wished-for traditional dress to wear to her birthday party. A doctor gets financial support to research children’s congenital heart disease. A national organization for abused children is
able to expand its services.

A common thread runs through these stories—just a few of tens of thousands that could be told—and that link is Jewelers for Children, the national charity of the U.S. retail jewelry industry, which includes retailers, jewelry and watch suppliers, manufacturers, and trade groups. Youngsters will live, cures will be found, and generations otherwise lost will survive, thanks to the good-hearted financial and volunteer support of JFC.

But such an effective charitable effort can’t operate on good intentions alone. It needs not only the vision of industry leaders but also a committed, talented, energetic person to run it and ensure that it fulfills its mission.

For JFC, that person is Pattie Light, who has served as executive director since the group was organized in 1999.

“I doubt JFC would have come as far and as fast as it has without Pattie,” says JFC chairman Terry Burman, chairman of Sterling Inc., the second largest U.S. retail jeweler. “She’s the glue that held us together, from the start to where we are today,” says John Goldman, JFC’s first chairman and chairman of bridal jewelry manufacturer Frederick Goldman Inc. Through her extensive work, “she became the face of JFC” to those in the industry and outside it, declares Laurence Grunstein, JFC vice chairman and president of Citizen Watch Co. of America.

During Light’s tenure, JFC (previously known as the Jewelers Charity Fund for Children, and renamed this year) has grown from a simple logo into a year-round fund-raising operation that gives millions annually to children’s charities. Under her influence, it has united all segments of the trade—from mom-and-pops to national chains, from fierce competitors to various trade groups—in an ongoing beneficent enterprise with a single goal: helping at-risk children.

For embodying the benevolent characteristics of this “Industry With a Heart”—Light’s mantra whenever she speaks about JFC and the jewelry trade—and as a representative of all those in the industry who work actively (and often unrecognized) to do good, JCK has chosen Pattie Light as its 2004 “Person of the Year.”

Benevolent. A bent for benevolence has been a consistent thread in Light’s career, which began with a job as a jewelry salesperson for Shifrin-Willens while still in high school. As director of special projects and later assistant vice president of corporate communications at Sterling Inc. between the 1980s and mid-1990s—when the company expanded into a national operation—she oversaw not only investor relations, the company newspaper, and the annual managers’ meetings (at venues such as Disney World) but also crafted projects designed, in her words, “to make the company kinder and gentler as it grew, to make one family out of many stores.” Those projects included employee recognition awards, the employees’ United Way campaign, programs for employees at the home office to “adopt” local needy families for the holidays, and projects aiding Sterling employees who were down on their luck. “It was an extremely giving culture,” Light says. She also coordinated the local cystic fibrosis walk and served for years on the Ohio board of the American Heart Association.

However, there are two Sterling projects for which Light was probably best known: She ran Sterling’s annual “Party With a Purpose” charity fund-raising gala (begun by her husband Nat Light, former Sterling chairman) and created a corporate child-care center—rare at the time—at the Akron, Ohio, headquarters. Light was involved in the center from the original idea to the opening-day ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Until JFC, I considered that the great accomplishment of my career,” she says.

Ups and downs. After Nat Light left Sterling in 1995, Pattie joined a locally based regional health care organization with several hospitals. She served as director of marketing and communications, effectively applying the skills she had developed in the jewelry trade to a nonprofit operation, including fund raising. She enjoyed the work and left it only to assist her husband (as vice president of marketing) in a short-lived retail endeavor called “Only Diamonds,” which ended in 1998. That same year, when the attic floor in the family garage collapsed, Light suffered a serious fall that left her in a body cast for months.

While laid up, however, Light learned that jewelry trade leaders planned to consolidate the industry’s charities … and needed an executive director to run it. The proposed job seemed ideally suited to her experience and skills. Intrigued, she phoned Jonathan Goldman, the charity’s first chairman, to express her interest in the job. She later had phone interviews with some of the founders, and at the end of January 1999—”on the first day without my body cast,” she joked later—met with the full search committee in New York City.

Zeal. Light wasn’t the only applicant for the job. “There were many candidates,” recalls JFC chairman Terry Burman, then a member of the search committee. “The big question for us was whether to recruit a professional fund-raiser who didn’t know the jewelry industry or someone who wasn’t [a professional] but did [know the industry].”

Light’s résumé seemed to answer that question. She had strong organizational, administrative, and interpersonal skills and was experienced in nonprofit fund-raising and overseeing major charity projects. She knew well the jewelry trade’s components, leaders and—as one JFC board member tactfully phrased it—”nuances and politics.” And her ideas and the board’s were very much in sync. As Goldman later said, “It was amazing to see in interviewing her that we all shared a similar vision: bringing a single focus to the industry’s [former] diverse charities, and doing it to benefit kids.” All of that “made her a good fit,” says Burman.

But something else clinched Light’s appointment—her zeal for the mission. “Clearly, she had the experience, ability, and knowledge [of the industry],” says Victor Weinman, former JFC chairman and president of DesignWorks Jewelery Group Ltd. “But we chose her because of her real desire to make something of this. Look, it’s easy to have a vision; it’s complicated to bring it to reality. You need someone with a special fire within to do it. Clearly, Pattie had that.” Goldman agrees. She had “terrific expertise and a diverse portfolio of skills,” he says, “but what really sold us was her passion” for JFC’s purpose.

Shaping JFC. Light needed all the passion she could muster to implement the founders’ vision. At the start, there was only “a board of 13 members, a logo, a letterhead, and business cards. Nothing else was in place,” recalled Light later.

“We started from scratch,” agrees Burman, “with no organization, office, systems, or infrastructure. Those had to be developed—on a cost-effectiveness basis—to get the charity going.”

“But frankly, that was wonderful for me, because I could build something from the ground up and have input into everything happening from then on,” says Light.

JFC officials agree. “Her insight and guidance have shaped literally everything JFC has done,” says Matt Runci, JFC treasurer and executive director of Jewelers of America. Goldman notes, “She was instrumental in every part, helping formulate the board, the structure of the charity, [its relation to] the tax law, even in the writing of the bylaws.”

She also helped ensure that JFC would be inclusive. “It was at Pattie’s urging that it represents all parts of the industry,” says Goldman. “Previously, only the largest manufacturers and retailers were involved with industry charities. But she stressed that the industry’s charity had to involve the whole industry—independents and chain jewelers, retailers of jewelry, large and small manufacturers, the watch industry, luxury suppliers and retailers, foreign manufacturers and retailers, manufacturers and trade groups—everyone! It solidified the charity; it’s even in our bylaws.”

The commitment to inclusion continues today. The board now has 50 members to provide as full representation as possible, but its makeup is the same as in 1999—40% retailers, 40% manufacturers, and 20% trade associations.

Light also helped shape—and maintain—JFC’s image and message. Once JFC officials had chosen the children’s charities to support (see sidebar), Light “immediately began working the designations ‘the industry’s charity’ and ‘the industry with a heart’ into all our verbiage and communications and presenting a consistent message to the trade and consumers, making it a type of branding,” she says.

The gala that grew. The immediate task facing Light when she was hired in February 1999 was organizing the group’s first fund-raising dinner—the charity’s official launch—set for June 1999 during The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas. There was no location, no program, no menu, no invitations, not even a name. (“We brainstormed on that and came up with ‘Facets of Hope,'” recalls Light, though Weinman insists, “She coined that name.”)

Light set to work immediately, applying her planning and organizational expertise, and doing it all—as she has done for much of her tenure since 1999—without a staff. Her goal was to attract 1,000 guests, but when the event was held just five months later, there were 1,500 in attendance.

It was the start of an annual industry tradition of festive, elegant fund-raising galas—planned, choreographed and overseen by Light, to the smallest detail—at which industry leaders are honored for their charitable work, a report is given to the trade of JFC’s prior-year efforts (often featuring children who benefit from JFC-supported charities), the industry’s annual donations (now totaling millions) are given to its charities, and even nationally known celebrities participate.

The event itself also has grown. The 2004 edition of “Facets of Hope,” held in the huge Grand Ballroom of the magnificent Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas and featuring several at-dinner fund-raisers like raffles and a silent auction, drew 2,250 guests.

Special events. Light’s work in making “Facets of Hope” an industry-unifying event demonstrating the trade’s benevolence could, by itself, be enough for kudos. But from the start, she had a broader vision for JFC than a once-a-year fund-raiser.

“Once there, I started looking for ways for the charity to be active throughout the year, to keep it continually in front of the industry,” she says. “Everything couldn’t be centered on one event. Not everyone goes to [the] Las Vegas [show] or can donate $500 [for a dinner ticket]. We had to become a year-round organization and find other opportunities for people to participate.”

“I think I got e-mail from Pattie—about a special event or an idea for one—every day from 1999 forward,” says Goldman. “She changed this from a once-a-year event into something constantly on the industry’s mind all year-round.” Many of those fund-raising ideas are hers—for example, raffles, auctions, golf tournaments, or having companies urge suppliers to donate to JFC at Christmas instead of sending holiday gifts. But everyone in the industry is actively encouraged to hold a special event benefiting JFC. “No company is too large or too small to do so,” says Light. The number of companies doing so—and the number of special events—has grown annually. In addition to the activities mentioned above, they also include in-store promotions and donations of goods, services, and even frequent-flyer miles and money from recycled batteries or scrap gold.

JFC’s other fund-raisers conceived by its officials include its in-store counter canisters (donated by Jewelers of America), now in thousands of U.S. stores; holiday greeting cards; donations in the name of a person or company; tributes in honor of a person, group, or company; and, since 2003, the year-round “Hero in Hope” membership drive to enlist individuals within and outside the industry, with monthly membership fees as low as $1. (About 1,000 jewelry trade businesses and organizations already support JFC.) “We want to involve the entire industry and establish a grassroots membership, so everyone can take pride in what the industry’s own charity does for children,” says Light.

Full-time. Once named executive director, Light threw herself into the work. Though it’s a paid full-time job (all other JFC officials are volunteers, donating their time and efforts), “her passion and energy level was way beyond what we expected,” said Goldman. “She did it seven days a week.”

Her work day usually ran from 6:30 a.m. (at JFC’s second-floor office in a building in Jupiter, Fla., near her home) to 6:30 p.m., and then after dinner continued at home for a few hours more. She also traveled frequently (including weekends) for JFC, attending conclaves, conventions, trade shows, and special events—both in the industry and for the charities JFC supports—to tell JFC’s story.

Much of her job, of course, involved working with JFC’s officers on projects and proposals in committees, with the executive committee, and with the board of directors. “The executive director, by definition, is a member of every standing committee, because it’s important they work hand in hand,” Weinman notes. “So, everything the charity has done has a touch of Pattie Light in it. We all had ideas, but it took her direction, energy, and tenacity to carry them through.”

She also kept them all well informed. “She knew the people on our executive committee and board are industry leaders with extremely busy business lives,” notes Grunstein. “Yet, she managed to keep everyone engaged with JFC, whether she e-mailed you—oh-so-many times with e-mails!—or called you. She really kept everyone in touch and was the link between the industry leaders who work actively for JFC and the individual charities JFC supports.”

Light leavened her work with diplomacy and tact. “In this very close industry, where relationships between small stores and large ones, among retailers, suppliers, and trade associations, can be difficult or strong, Pattie could work her way through issues without putting people at odds with each other and get them to work together in this effort,” says Burman. And she made sure all knew their donations—whether small or large, in dollars, goods, services, or time—were vital. “She has the ability to communicate that each is equally important to JFC’s work, whether a person buys one ticket for the [“Facets of Hope”] dinner or places a $10,000 ad in its program,” he notes.

In doing all that she did, Pattie Light became, says Larry Grunstein, “the face of JFC” to all. “Pattie is dedicated to JFC and to the recipients of our annual contributions,” he says. “She genuinely believes JFC is the ‘industry charity with a heart,’ and that comes through when she talks about it and the good work we do.”

‘The bridge.’ Light has been important not only to JFC but also to the children’s charities it supports. Indeed, the nature and extent of relations today between them and JFC are “a direct result of Pattie’s personal involvement,” notes Weinman.

She’s been “the bridge,” declares Paula Van Ness, longtime president and chief executive officer (until this summer) of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America. “Pattie is a superb spokesperson and liaison between the charity organizations and the jewelers, mobilizing them to raise money and enabling jewelers to know about the charities, interpreting each of us to the other.”

Cheri Carter, vice president of international development for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, agrees. “Pattie has been integral to our work and played a large role in our collaborative efforts,” she says. “She’s been the point of contact for the charities to the jewelry industry, the conduit for both sides, gathering and sharing information on a daily basis. She represented the jewelry industry to the charities and the charities to the industry, double-checking information to ensure that we’re presented in the right way and that we do the same for the industry.”

Just as important is the fact that Light tied JFC and its charities closely together. “It’s rare to have such a familial feel” between a charity and its corporate supporters, notes Carter, “but that’s what she fostered. The charity partners [of JFC] have become a real family gathered around the jewelry industry, because she made us all learn more about each other.”

One of the ways Light accomplishes this is by getting officials of JFC and its charity partners to come together, through frequent conference calls and at JFC board meetings. “We talk about what we’re doing, what’s working, about fund-raising ideas, and how to create more ways for jewelers to get involved,” says Carter. “That’s Pattie, always creating opportunities for us to get together, brainstorm, grow and go to the next level and always masterful in the execution and follow-through on ideas adopted,” says Van Ness.

Thanks largely to this close partnership, the jewelry industry’s involvement with the charities has grown. In recent years, for example, JFC has expanded its support (with no reduction in its original committment) to include a bone marrow transplant laboratory and a $2 million pledge to endow a chair in genetics and gene therapy at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; a new Glaser Foundation program for pediatric researchers (called “Jewelers for Children Fellows”); programs in clinics in Africa to prevent mother-child transmission of HIV/AIDS, saving literally tens of thousands of lives; the Make-A-Wish Foundation of India; and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), which protects the interests of abused and neglected children.

Getting close. Light also understood the value of getting close to the children being helped and their families, to understand their problems and to see their successes, too. She worked diligently, say JFC and charity officials, to create opportunities for local jewelers to get involved and for industry executives to experience JFC’s mission in action in various ways—holding board meetings at St. Jude’s and inviting those helped by the charities to speak at JFC or regional industry events or to participate, when appropriate, in what the charities do. Goldman, for example, recalls “our visits with Pattie to St. Jude’s being so poignant, seeing kids with life-threatening illnesses, hearing their stories, and thinking, ‘This is what’s it all about, helping the kids.'”

Despite years of contact with them, Light herself hasn’t become hardened or indifferent to the life-threatening situations of the children and their families. Matt Runci recalls a JA state affiliate conference in Washington, D.C., a few years ago, when Light brought along a mother and child who had had a wish granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “The mother’s testimonial was incredibly articulate and moving. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, but what impressed me most was Pattie,” he recalls. “She had no doubt heard such testimonials countless times already. Yet, she was just as moved as the rest of us in the room. Her heart is with JFC; her dedication is to the cause it serves.”

When a child passes away, as one St. Jude’s patient—a boy whom she and JFC officials knew well—did recently, it is “always a low point for me and devastating for us all,” she says. Such incidents always remind her that “this relationship isn’t just to raise money. We truly care about every child.”

Light puts a high priority on her “heartfelt opportunities” to meet children being helped and their families. “There’s a little girl who comes to the JFC dinner in Las Vegas every year,” she says, citing one, “and every year, I always had my picture taken with her, because she’s living and growing. That means a lot to me and everyone in JFC.”

Leaving. Light’s work as JFC’s executive director ended this year, on Sept. 30, by her choice. In April, she presented her letter of resignation to chairman Terry Burman, and in June, officially announced her decision to JFC’s board of directors. Jewelers of America senior vice president David L. Rocha has been chosen by JFC to replace Light.

Although she is leaving to spend more time with her family, Light’s decision to resign was “heart wrenching,” she told JCK. “I love this job and have done everything I can to help JFC grow [because] it’s all about the kids.” But in doing so, “I lost the balance in my life. Now, I want to enjoy some time again with my husband, family, and friends,” she said.

Light leaves with some objectives unfulfilled. She regrets that JFC’s story hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves in the public media. “One goal has always been to reach consumers with our message,” says Light. “We truly believe children are the most precious of all gems, and we’re enormously proud of our industry’s benevolence” on their behalf. Cheri Carter of the Glaser Foundation agrees. “The impact the jewelry industry has had is phenomenal. It’s a great story, and one to be admired.”

Yet, while conflict diamonds or jewelry thefts get ink and air time, the consumer media so far have been uninterested in JFC’s charitable activism nationally and worldwide. To remedy that, Light this year began looking for a public relations firm for JFC—but one willing to “maximize what we’re willing to spend, because we want to pass as much money as possible to the charities, not spend it on infrastructure.”

Another regret—”my biggest”—is more general: “I would have loved to have accomplished more … but couldn’t. That was the toughest part, doing this [daily] without staff help. Even [with a full-time assistant hired this year], it’s a challenge.” Still, she’s accomplished much. “Almost everything JFC does bears her stamp of quality and personal attention that went into everything she does,” says Burman. “It’s hard to envision JFC coming as far or as fast as it has without her.”

Light’s impact. How do you measure the impact of Patty Light’s efforts on behalf of JFC, the children it helps, and the jewelry industry? Here’s one way: During her tenure, the industry’s charity quadrupled its annual donations to the children’s organizations it supports—from $900,000 in 1999 to $4.4 million in 2004. In total, in its first six years, JFC has raised and contributed more than $14 million to help children live better, healthier lives. Very few other industries are as generous.

Here’s another tangible measure of her effectiveness as JFC’s executive director. According to Charity Navigator (America’s leading online independent evaluator of U.S. charities’ operations and finances), 88.2% of every donated dollar goes to the charities JFC supports; the rest covers fund-raising, operating, and administrative expenses. That’s impressive, especially compared with major non-industry charities with more resources and large staffs, such as the American Heart Association (75.5%), the American Red Cross (91%), World Vision (85.2%), or the Boys & Girls Clubs (88.6%).

Another measure, say many, is how effectively Light juggled so many tasks. As executive director, she actually led three lives—working for JFC, with its charities, and with people and companies in the industry. Yet, she did it all efficiently and seemingly effortlessly. “She’s masterful and disciplined in what she does, like the conductor of an elaborate symphony leading so many players,” says Paula Van Ness. “Like a great conductor, she knows who to call on and when, when to pick up the pace or slow it down, when to improvise. Other times, when she has to, she’s a one-woman band. She has so many skills in so many areas, I’m in awe of her. I wish we could clone this woman. So many charities need someone like her!” Cheri Carter of the Glaser Foundation agrees, adding, “And she ‘conducts’ with such glorious style and determination!”

Collaboration. There’s one other area in which Light’s efforts have had a significant impact—on the jewelry industry itself. Both she and JFC officials are proud of the accord JFC’s commitment to children has created in the trade. “Seeing people who compete against each another in business put it all aside and come together to be so collaborative—it’s just the best,” says Light. This focus on coming together to help children has “built a sense of camaraderie and unity in the industry.” While that’s been “a dream and goal of mine,” says Light, she takes little credit for it … but others disagree.

“It takes a pretty special person as executive director to be able to deal with those personalities—the strongest ones in our industry—to cut through the politics and be able to say, ‘Let’s think about the kids, they come first. What we’re doing is so important, so let’s lay aside things that would normally occupy us [in business].'” says Weinman.

Goldman agrees. “This is one of first times I’ve seen the industry united behind one cause, and she helped to bring it together,” he says. “I think that’s Pattie’s greatest contribution—keeping us all together and focused on the charity.”

“Under Pattie’s tutelage, JFC brought together in a very focused and visible way the previously fragmented efforts of many companies large and small in our industry to support philanthropy,” says JA’s Matt Runci. “That has enabled the industry that always had a heart to demonstrate it in a way that uniquely brings together competitors in a collaboration from which everyone benefits.”

Her influence isn’t limited to the jewelry trade. “Patty has fostered a strong relationship between our charity organizations and jewelers that will continue long afterward,” says Paula Van Ness. “She put the time and effort from the outset into building that relationship, solidified it, and has created a sense of commitment that endures.”

“It’s been a pleasure working with Pattie and seeing the vision of this organization brought to where it is today,” says Weinman. “Without her, we wouldn’t have achieved in such a short time all that we have.” Thanks to Pattie Light’s work, JFC and its new executive director can extend the good work and impact of the industry’s charity even further. “She laid the foundation for JFC to take its next big step,” says Goldman, and as it does, says Burman, “it will gratify Pattie very much.”