With the news that the Jewellers Association of Australia (JAA) is in search of a new
chief executive officer, after it was announced that the contract of current CEO Ian Hadassin would not be renewed, I believe it’s time for a complete review of the JAA’s day-to-day operation.
The past two to three years have not been a positive period for the peak industry body. In fact, I would go as far as saying it’s been an inglorious period. At a time when the Australian jewellery industry should be united, it has been anything but united.
The disunity reached a peak in May 2012 when the JAA was seen to turn on its own members. The furore began when Haddasin issued an email inviting JAA members to join Rapnet, an online diamond-trading platform based outside Australia. Rapnet competes with local diamond dealers so there was uproar when it was discovered that the JAA was promoting overseas trade against the association’s own members and local suppliers.
Given there are many diamond-trading platforms; members also asked why Rapnet was singled out. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the situation worsened when it was discovered that Hadassin had decided to promote this overseas company – at the expense of local suppliers – without board approval or knowledge!
In response, a group of local diamond dealers called on Hadassin to explain his actions in an open letter to the jewellery industry. He issued a clarification and personally apologised for upsetting members; however emails and phone calls continued for weeks afterwards as the JAA tried to quell the fallout.
Could the matter get worse? Yes, and it did.
Hadassin’s apology advised that he was "arranging for a two-page article in the August edition of Jeweller magazine, promoting the local loose diamond industry".
"JAA members who sell loose diamonds will be featured at no cost," he wrote. "We will be in contact with further details shortly, and look forward to your participation."
The two-page article was never published and, in fact, Jeweller was completely unaware of the JAA’s offer until sometime after August 2013 when a supplier phoned the magazine, saying, "When they [JAA] contact me about my membership next year, I’ll tell them to look for my cheque in the same place as their two-page diamond story!"
It was well known at the time that there was discontent on the JAA board over other issues before the Rapnet furore erupted. In fact, for the past two years there has been a persistent rumour of the formation of a break-away association.
The Rapnet debacle led to calls for a review of the JAA’s management. "It’s outrageous that something like this [endorsement of Rapnet] can be done without board approval, let alone without any of the board members being advised before the email was sent," one diamond dealer said at the time.
I believe the board was remiss in its duties not to call for a complete review of the JAA office at that time. And, to overcome any perception of personal relations that are often unavoidable in small industries, such a review should have been conducted by an independent and external professional.
It is hard to beat the Rapnet affair for controversy but there have been many further missteps in the ensuing two years that have tried, which is why I'm labelling the period "inglorious".
One recent example happened in September 2013 after the JAA had announced it was considering an industry-wide, self-regulated accreditation program
. It was, and remains, a radical idea. According to Hadassin himself, "We are undertaking an extensive consultation phase to ensure we get this right; we are urging industry participants to have their say."
To assist in the "extensive consultation", the JAA organised two "information sessions" to be conducted at the new National Jewellery Forums, which were held last October in Perth and Adelaide. The JAA was meant to promote the sessions to members and, given the plan would radically change the jewellery industry you’d expect there would have been a great deal of interest in the new accreditation program.
To that end, one would have thought the JAA’s marketing department would go into overdrive promoting the information sessions to members.
Well, one business day before the Adelaide session, both it and the Perth event were cancelled because only one jeweller had registered an interest in attending.
Therefore one must conclude that either no one cares about an industry accreditation program or the JAA failed in properly marketing a plan that has the potential to change the entire Australian jewellery industry.
It was a severe embarrassment and an indictment on the JAA office.
In addition, National Jewellery Forum organiser Gary Fitz-Roy was irate – not only had he organised the venue and catering for the sessions, but he'd also only heard of the cancellation when his staff called the JAA on the Friday before the event.
Fitz-Roy says he was left holding the bill, $3,000 for the venue’s services.
It doesn’t add up
Now just think about this for a moment. The JAA, a member-based industry association, was considering an industry-wide, self-regulated accreditation program. Here was a plan that would radically change the industry so surely it's the JAA’s job to advertise and promote the meetings to its members (and non-members). Yet only one person was going to show-up!
Is this a reflection on the JAA’s lack of professionalism and its inability to promote itself? Or does it instead demonstrate widespread industry apathy?
"Ahh, that’s probably just an isolated case," I hear you say.
Well consider this: if you’re not a JAA member, ask yourself when you last received marketing material explaining the benefits of JAA membership and inviting you to join. Possibly never is the answer.
Don’t you regularly promote your business to new customers?
Did I mention that the JAA is a member-based organisation? It exists to support members and recruit new members, right? If you are not a member, shouldn’t you regularly receive promotional material about the benefits of JAA membership?
Last year I received an email from someone wanting to subscribe to Jeweller. The person knew the magazine was a free benefit for JAA members. She explained that she had emailed the JAA about becoming a new member but her email was never answered.
She subscribed to Jeweller yet didn’t join the JAA. Even though I informed the JAA about the matter, no one thought to ask for the person’s contact details for any kind of follow-up or even an apology, let alone to provide the membership information they requested.
"Ahh, that’s probably just another isolated case," I hear you say.
Well, no. As an industry commentator, I get lots of feedback about that sort of thing. Two years ago, a jewellery retailer with many stores asked me, "What do you think happened after I told the JAA that I was not renewing my membership?"
When I said, "I think I know but tell me," he replied with "Nothing!"
This multi-store retailer went on to explain what he thought should happen when people inform the JAA of their decision not to renew their membership. He thought he’d at least receive a telephone call asking why. Instead, nothing at all happened and he hasn’t been a member since.
"Aah, that's just a third isolated misstep," I hear you say.
Well, consider this: Jeweller is the official publication of the JAA and we’re meant to be keeping members informed about the JAA by publishing regular JAA news stories and columns in the magazine.
Members may have noted that our February issue contained no JAA stories at all and that's because nothing was received from the JAA for the first issue of 2014!
Wait there’s more
Maybe you are starting to see why I think there is a need for a complete review of the JAA office. Would you like another example?
The JAA organised a very important industry meeting 30 January to discuss the ramifications of the recent Zamel’s case. It was reportedly a large success and all major chains attended. Apparently a great deal of good came from the meeting; however, it took the JAA two weeks to issue a media release by which time the matter was no longer news. It’s inexcusable that a media release was not prepared the next day on such an important meeting, especially given it was successful.
The JAA cannot even promote its own achievements!
I could list many more examples of why I think the JAA office needs an overhaul, including one or two that you might find disturbing, but all that matters now is that the board is in a position to do what it should have done two years ago. In searching for a new CEO, I hope a far wider strategic review of the JAA office takes place.
Regular readers will know that it’s not the first time I have called for changes at the so-called peak industry body. Last September I called for a major rethink of the JAA board itself
. Some labelled my criticism as "scathing" but, in fairness, the very first phone call I received after the commentary was published came from a current board member who not only agreed with the comments but also applauded the fact I had covered a controversial issue.
Over the ensuing weeks other board members did the same thing, even if not agreeing with every point. Indeed, throughout that period, prominent industry people and many former JAA board members told me that not only did the board need a restructure but there also had to be changes at the JAA office too.
I could not find one person who supported the status quo, and most believed the JAA was on the road to becoming irrelevant.
Having said that, I believe that there are changes afoot at the board level. This latest news supports the fact that some board members, not all, are intent on driving major change across the association to ensure it remains relevant.
Now with Hadassin departing after seven years in the position – a term I believe to be far too long in this day and age – it’s the perfect time for a complete review of requirements for the position of CEO, as well as the day-to-day management of the association.
What's more, after the debacle of the JAA’s termination of its previous CEO, a review is now imperative. It should also be written into the new position that the management of the JAA office be reviewed every two years by an external independent expert and not by the board members themselves.
It’s rumoured that internal board squabbles may have prevented a review of the association two years ago, however nothing should stand in the way now.
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Editor’s Note: Although Jeweller is the official publication of the Jewellers Association of Australia (JAA), the magazine is published independently of the JAA and all views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the JAA.