The More Things Change

The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas saw the return of many retailers with money to invest in new products. It also heard the lament of a few exhibitors who didn’t do satisfactory business during the show. But the next biggest buzz concerned the abrupt change in leadership at the American Gem Society.

Robert Bridel, executive director of the AGS, suddenly resigned one week before the show opened. What made his departure even more surprising was that it occurred the very week that the centerpiece of Bridel’s work during the past three years—AGS’s new facility housing a lab, classrooms, and offices—was to be formally opened.

Bridel’s departure was positioned by the organization with the classic corporate phrasing that Robert wanted to spend more time with his family. However, the abrupt nature of the departure, its timing, and its official rationale suggest that his departure was anything but a well-thought-out plan.

Bridel assumed leadership of AGS nearly five years ago. During his tenure, he brought to the AGS energy, enthusiasm, and—most important—the ability to get things done. Raising money is the mother’s milk of politics, and so it is with running an association. Under Bridel’s leadership and day-to-day guidance, the AGS vigorously pursued consumer initiatives and exclusive product development efforts, raised funds to dramatically expand its laboratory and classroom facilities, and—as if that weren’t enough—effectively lobbied for funds to support AGS’s cut-grade initiative.

These are real and significant accomplishments for anyone’s résumé.

Years ago, a wise and seasoned executive mentor told me that once an organization passes a certain number of employees, your job changes from running a business to dealing with people problems. This principle applies to bridal jewelry manufacturing, publishing, running a retail jewelry store, and directing an industry association of more than 1,200 retail jewelers in Canada and the United States.

Bridel’s style ultimately may have been his undoing at AGS. Certainly, the size and scope of the projects undertaken by AGS during the past four-plus years have been significant for anyone to manage effectively without ruffling some feathers.

The AGS will go on, and Robert Bridel will find another opportunity. The AGS is a quality organization with a fine mission. Robert Bridel is a seasoned retail CEO with extensive executive experience, and I’m certain he will find another opportunity within the industry where his expertise, knowledge, and contacts will pay off. It’s a shame, though, that this well-qualified individual and this fine organization couldn’t reconcile whatever differences separated them.

In the end, however, the truth of another old adage is equally apparent: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”