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World Federation Of Diamond Bourses

Interview with Ms. Susan Jacques, President and CEO of the Gemological Institute of America

Susan Jacques GIA

Q. Tell us about your personal journey in the gem and jewelry industries; how you began and where you would like to be in 10 years

My journey has been a wonderful series of serendipitous connections. I have always been fascinated, since I was a young girl growing up in Zimbabwe, with rocks and shells. That led to a position at the largest jeweler in Harare, which, in turn, led to my decision to study at GIA in Santa Monica, California, where I earned my Graduate Gemologist diploma. Then, during the economic downturn in the early 1980s, my connection to a GIA classmate took me to Borsheims Fine Jewelry and Gifts in Omaha, Nebraska. I planned to be there for one year and ended up spending 31 years there, twenty of them as CEO reporting to Warren Buffett. While at Borsheims, I was fortunate to meet many people in every part of our wonderful industry, eventually joining the GIA Board of Governors in 1996. In 2014, I was offered the opportunity to join GIA as president and CEO. I have been exceptionally fortunate to have had two dream jobs in this great industry with Borsheims and GIA.

In ten years, I definitely plan to be retired and watching with great pride as the next generation of passionate, committed leaders takes GIA into its second hundred years! However, between now and then, I hope to build resilience and relevance for the global gem and jewelry trade and especially for GIA. To do that, we must all embrace changing consumer tastes and desires, and their evolving expectations about the provenance and impact of the jewelry they purchase. We must adapt to the digital transformation of every aspect of our lives. That transformation affects peoples’ preferences for consuming information and making purchase decisions. Also, to ensure the survival of our industry and our beautiful planet, we must put sustainability at the forefront of our actions and how we live our lives.

Q. How has GIA, the leading international gemological laboratory, been impacted by global events: the Covid pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the economic situation worldwide?

The impact on GIA, our activities, teams and our mission mirrors the experience of many in our industry. At the start of the pandemic, all our laboratories and schools closed for some time. Thankfully, we were able to retain our talented and experienced laboratory staff, instructors and corporate support teams so that when, in 2021, business activity increased dramatically, we met that demand from our clients. In 2022, we tracked the global reduction in activity, being prudent with our resources while continuing to fully fund the important strategic activities supporting our consumer protection mission, particularly our comprehensive gemological research and technology development programs.

Following the Russian invasion, we donated to international organizations to help the Ukrainian people. We also launched the GIA Source Verification Service to offer the trade and consumers an immediate and trusted verification of diamond origin information.

Q. How has the diamond industry and the role of GIA changed in the last decade? How have new technologies played a role in this change?

GIA’s role and mission have remained constant. We work every day to protect consumers and ensure their trust in gems and jewelry. We do that through our comprehensive research into diamonds, colored stones and pearls. That research then feeds our education programs and underpins our science-based, independent and trusted laboratory services for gem identification and grading.

There have been two notable changes in the industry in the last 10 years.

The first is the perhaps unexpected convergence of e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retail. Once seen as a threat, online shopping helped retailers, large and small, reach new clients, especially during the pandemic. And leading online retailers are embracing physical stores, recognizing the value consumers place on that meaningful in-person experience. Omni channel retailing – meeting the clients when and where they wish to make their purchases – is here to stay.

Second is the role of technology. Whether building an immersive online experience for potential customers, closely tracking inventory for just-in-time manufacturing and delivery; enabling GIA to make all our grading reports digital by 2025, starting with the digital GIA Diamond Dossier report earlier this year; or integrating automation into every aspect of the supply chain including diamond grading, technology touches, and hopefully improves, every aspect of everything we do.

Technology in our industry, when harnessed to our purpose of bringing beautiful jewelry to consumers to help them mark the most significant moments in their lives, is inseparable from our continued success.

Q. What are the challenges and opportunities facing the diamond industry and how is GIA positioned to help with this?

The diamond industry faces an immediate challenge – how to remain relevant while facing the twin hurdles of changing consumer tastes and increasing expectations about the provenance, impact and sustainability of the gems they buy. The opportunity we have is to address these challenges openly and transparently with goodwill to ensure consumer trust.

GIA’s well-known diamond grading and other laboratory reports provide transparency and support consumer trust by educating them about gems. We are advancing our sustainability by eliminating the paper and plastic used to produce our reports and embarking on a broad-based environment, sustainability and governance (ESG) program. Part of this program will build ESG concepts and practices into our education curriculum, ensuring that future generations of gem and jewelry professionals have the skills and information to address these critical issues.

Q. What do you see as your most important achievements since taking over the helm at GIA?

GIA is a purpose-driven organization, recognized as a beacon of trust with a strong reputation, high integrity and rich history. That firm foundation, built over 91 years, allows us to focus on the future.

GIA expanded tremendously in the past decade by focusing on growing our strategically placed global laboratories and schools. I am very proud of how dedicated the more than 3,600 GIA associates around the globe are to ensuring that everything we do is focused on our mission to protect consumers.

Our committed teams came together to keep our operations going, even in the most difficult times during the pandemic. Our grading and identification operations are highly structured – that is a large part of how we maintain such accuracy and consistency. The pandemic forced operational changes, but the professionalism and dedication of all GIA teams allowed us to continue fulfilling our mission and brought GIA to this point stronger and better prepared for the bright future ahead.

One of the achievements I am most proud of is our support for artisanal colored stone miners in East Africa. The practical gemological information and training we provide bring tangible and valuable benefits to the miners – many women – and to their families and communities.

I am proud of bringing GIA and the American Gem Society back together as our founders intended in the 1930s, as we both focus on consumer protection and education. Our collaboration will bring about exciting new services.

We have also reenergized our graduates with the new GIA Alumni Collective, an engaging platform to bring together our more than 150,000 alumni around the world and tell their inspiring stories.

Q. Tell us about your interests/family and anything else you would like to add.

I’m an avid walker, starting and ending most days with a brisk outing near our home close to GIA in Carlsbad, California, with my husband and our dog Buddy. My husband is a motorcycle enthusiast, so many weekends include a leisurely ride in the hills near home – always with a helmet! We also have a beautiful farm in Nebraska which is a wonderful sanctuary when we are back in the Midwest.

I’ve been in our industry for the better part of 40 years and have been blessed with a wonderful career, great opportunities, fabulous friends and dedicated colleagues. I had the opportunity to give back by serving on many industry boards and learned the power and benefit of networking by helping others. I am exceptionally grateful for the incredibly blessed life that I have been fortunate to live and experience. Much of what you asked me had to do with change. I’ve learned that change is inevitable but that we can all influence its direction. I find inspiration every day in the quote often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’  Working together, we can make this world an even better place for us and future generations!

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