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It’s time for Brandt and JAA to move on

It was great to see Jewellers Association of Australia (JAA) president Selwyn Brandt recently calling for a “single united voice” to represent and lead the jewellery industry.

I couldn’t agree more with this notion. It is now time for the industry to put the past 12 months of division and turmoil behind and to start working together again. The problem is that it won’t happen while Brandt is president. Let me explain …

It is self-evident that the Australian jewellery industry needs a united voice and, up until early last year, the JAA was that voice; however, it all unravelled when the JAA split the industry by forcing suppliers and retailers to choose between two industry trade fairs on the same days in the same city.

There is no doubt that the JAA is at a critical point. The issue is how to resolve the differences in order to move forward. This must now be the focus for the industry.

While the issue of two trade shows is no longer relevant, given the JAA itself realised there was little or no substantive support for a second trade show, we must recognise how the industry came to be divided in the first place before we settle on a path back to unification.

The industry will remain fragmented and in turmoil until the root cause of the JAA’s doomed decision is determined and addressed. That cause is the JAA’s structure and, more precisely, inherent conflicts of interest that have played out at board level, leading to the disastrous consequences that have eventuated.

Selwyn Brandt, JAA president
Selwyn Brandt, JAA president

It is on record that five of the six JAA board members had a conflict of interest at the time it decided to launch a competing trade fair. In fact, the only board member who would not be affected by a second jewellery fair was Frank Salera, managing director of Salera's.

Incredulously, Colin Pocklington, managing director of Nationwide Jewellers, was the only one of the five other board directors to declare a conflict and abstain from voting.

One must understand that we are not talking about routine board business. The decision to launch a venture of this scale was a major and historic decision that potentially placed members’ funds at risk.

The resulting fallout is well documented. Both Leading Edge Group Jewellers and Nationwide surveyed members and decided not to support the JAA; Pocklington immediately resigned from the board to avoid a conflict of interest.

Background reading: Long road ahead for JAA

Faced with the backing of only one of the three buying groups – Showcase Jewellers had previously declared its support for the new show – the JAA ploughed on. One might question the wisdom of the JAA’s decision to devote limited resources and money to the promotion of a large and risky commercial venture, especially when more conflicts of interest were playing out behind the scenes.

Here’s where the story gets fascinating.

Not only did it become known that Brandt’s own business, Australian Jewellers Supplies (AJS) had chosen not to support the JAA fair - its logo was not one of the 25 listed wholesalers at the show - it has now come to light that AJS is not a JAA member!

I am not suggesting that Brandt has done anything wrong but one must consider the perception this creates: how can a JAA president spearhead and champion a new event and call on the entire industry to support and help bankroll it while his own business won’t, and worse, is not a JAA member.

When these facts were raised with former JAA directors, most were lost for words and some questioned how the situation could arise.

Now, readers can decide for themselves whether this passes the pub test and, perhaps now can see why there are larger issues to resolve in order to achieve a united industry, namely restructuring the JAA and the board.

Underlying issues

AJS is entitled to not support the JAA Jewellery Tradeshow and also entitled not to join the JAA and I’m sure the AJS board has its reasons; however, I cannot accept that the JAA president would place himself front-and-centre of a new JAA event that he, himself, was not supporting and that a president’s own company would not be a JAA member.

Brandt’s position on the JAA board is via Brandt Marketing, which according to Australian Government records has the trading name of House Of Jewellery (HOJ), but that business merged or was acquired by AJS in March 2014, effectively ending its 37-year presence in the local market.

HOJ no longer trades; the website address (hoj.com.au) immediately diverts to the AJS website which gives scant mention to HOJ on its ‘About Us’ page, while a Google search of the HOJ business name displays results for AJS.

I should place on the record here that Brandt has been a long time and tireless supporter of the Australian jewellery industry and his efforts and work in the industry cannot be questioned.  I can also say that in all my dealings with Brandt he has always acted in a professional manner and as a gentleman; however, the decision to create a second trade show without the full support of the industry was misguided and a serious error.

Each move the JAA made to force its trade show upon the industry simply divided it even more, especially because it came at a time when most businesses were struggling.

This was made clear by Showcase Jewellers’ decision to dump its “exclusive support” for the JAA event and switch to Expertise Events’ event upon the realisation that the JAA fair would fail.

Showcase’s decision helped end the JAA’s dream. No matter what the association has spent in lost venue deposits, legal fees and other direct and indirect costs, the largest costs here are the destruction of industry harmony, the swift reduction in JAA memberships and the loss of board talent – Nationwide quit the JAA after Brandt, then vice president Laura Sawade and then executive director Amanda Hunter signed a media release against their own former director, starting a legal dispute.

This is where Brandt is again misguided. If he believes the industry can once again have a “united voice that speaks on behalf of us all” then he must accept the errors that have occurred under his leadership, including the allegations in the media release against Pocklington and Nationwide (the release was removed from the JAA website).

Moving on

There is hope and there is a way forward but it won’t be easy.

Brandt, on behalf of the JAA, needs to apologise to Pocklington and Nationwide and declare that he will step aside at the next AGM. He should spend time until then to ensure his legacy is remembered for all the right reasons, rather than being remembered for the wrong reasons.

It will be a bitter pill for Brandt to swallow but four of the seven people involved in the original decision – six board members and Hunter – have already resigned so the situation now calls for an act of grace and humility before the industry can move forward and harmony be reinstated. Only then can the problematic structure of the JAA be resolved.

After all, it was Brandt himself who wrote “perception shapes decision” so one must wonder whether he can stay on after the next AGM in any capacity at all given that AJS, the company that he heads-up, does not see the JAA as an organisation worthy of joining.

There can be no doubt that the industry needs a strong, united association; however, it must be one that is respected by the wider industry. It’s time the JAA accepts responsibility for the division and turmoil it created so the industry can move forward.

It’s a lesson in hypocrisy for the JAA to ridicule Pocklington for not supporting its jewellery trade show and attack Nationwide after 25 years of continuous membership while, at the same time, the president’s own business has not seen the JAA fit to join!

Last month I warned that the blame game would begin, and wrote that the past 12 months had little, or nothing, to do with industry trade shows.

If Brandt continues to remain in denial and doesn’t apologise on behalf of the JAA or offer an olive branch to Nationwide then the Australian jewellery industry will remain fragmented for years to come at a time it can least afford.

I hope Brandt’s legacy is remembered for his 15-year outstanding service to the industry rather than for the series of mistakes over a JAA Jewellery Tradeshow. What is done is done, and Brandt alone will now decide if he is part of the solution by stepping aside to allow new blood and a new approach to reconciliation.

Only then will the aim of one single united voice be achieved. I, for one, hope common sense prevails. 

More reading
Amanda Hunter resigns; 2017 JAA jewellery tradeshow cancelled
Buying groups call for unity: urge industry to support one jewellery fair
Another JAA board member resigns
Showcase pledges support for Expertise Events jewellery fair
Nationwide, Leading Edge make 2017 jewellery fair decision
Sydney jewellery fair organiser hits back at JAA
More industry division over two jewellery fairs
 











ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Coleby Nicholson • Managing Editor

Managing Editor • Jeweller Magazine


Coleby Nicholson is publisher and managing editor of Jeweller magazine. He has covered the jewellery industry for more than a decade and specialises in business-to-business aspects of the industry.









Friday, 20 October, 2017 07:08am
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