In reflecting back on the more than 40 years that I‘ve actively operated my family’s jewelry business, and the thousands of conversations that I have had with our employees all over the world, the basic theme of the question most commonly asked of me is, “What one thing seems to be consistent in your management philosophy?” Typically, my answer will be first to broaden the question beyond management philosophy and encompass family-taught values. And as a third generation diamond dealer, the most important value is basic integrity, coupled with ‘my word being my bond’ which translates into a history of trust.
We teach our employees to be honest, in dealing with customers, co-workers and their management team. I taught my kids, at an early age, how important it is for a parent or a friend, or indeed anyone, to be able to trust them.
The first lesson that I learned about dishonest people within our industry involved my trying to solve a simple problem…what to do with totally broken, worthless stones. In setting hundreds of thousands of diamonds each year, (between loose stones we sell and then set, in our stores, and stones we set in our Thai factory, where we manufacture much of our custom jewelry), a small, but nonetheless a certain number will get broken. This is a cost of doing business. The stones that have zero value were the issue (not the ones that could be re-cut into smaller but still beautiful stones). When my Antwerp-based agent explained to me, 40 years ago, that dishonest people would buy them, sell them to dishonest cutters that worked in diamond cutting factories, who would then switch them and steal good diamonds from their bosses, I understood. That is what caused me to buy my first fish tank, in my Denver office. Rather than profit by selling these stones of mine, once I understood that the buyers were ill intended, I decided to throw those stones into the bottom of my fish tank. Stories of my fish tank soon permeated our own company, and it set a great example for our people.
Some jewelers may buy stolen goods to resell. Obviously, we can’t compete in price with them; nor do we care to. So my next lesson involved mandating to all of our buyers to know who we were buying from, to make sure that those vendors of ours enjoyed immaculate reputations themselves. In that sense, I was proud to be snobbish…buying only from those where I had full confidence in their integrity.
Soon other practices became issues. There were blood diamonds, child labor issues, slave labor issues, companies that would only sell for green cash and give no receipts, etc. Yet, I found that we were able to maintain great sources for our products, and keep our heads up high. We were proud of how we qualified our vendors, but subtle enough to simply decline to do business with others…without giving them a reason. We were able to build a great company, known for providing the best value to our customers in every city in which we operate, without compromising these moral principles.
Years later, certain governments, including the US government, began to look into some of these issues. The Kimberley Process, among other things, became a standard way for these governments to demonstrate that they were not blind to the problems. In fact, I was asked by several US Senators and Congressmen to express my thoughts over a conference call to them, regarding the idea behind the Kimberley Process when it was first being conceived. While I expressed certain fears and concerns about the concept of this process, it nonetheless passed. As Shane Co. was doing all the diligence anyhow, and had been for years, we were un-impacted. There was nothing for us to change! But the implementation of the Kimberley Process did allow the public to feel better. The public no longer had to worry about inaction on the part of their government being a contributor to the misery of the very few that were suffering. To put this into proper perspective, at the very worst of the blood diamond issue, less than 4% of the world’s diamonds were involved. As a dealer, our position was then, and remains, that even one blood diamond is one too many…so nothing less than zero tolerance is acceptable.
Anyhow, we continue to be very careful about our sourcing; and continue to refuse to sell broken diamonds that would only have the value of aiding and abetting a thief switch stones to result in an honest diamond cutter suffer an internal theft. By being aware of the world, we can try and make it a better place. And those are the same lessons I try and teach my own kids, and all of our employees.
As for the overall philosophy, I share it with my kids, hoping it will instill values in both the 4th generation in the business now, and their future kids and grandkids as well. Whether or not they wind up in the jewelry business, the other lesson I learned years ago, also from this wise Antwerp diamond dealer, is that a man has to shave every morning, and therefore he must look himself in the mirror…so he should be proud of what he sees.