We’re meeting Stephen Lussier, the executive director of the world’s largest diamond company, De Beers, at the company’s very smart offices in central London.
We follow Stephen’s assistant from the formal reception area up to the executive floor.
She leads us into a large office where Stephen, dressed in a formal dark suit and tie, is waiting for us.
“I might be a little underdressed,” I say as he gets up to greet us.
“Actually,” he laughs, “you are the first person ever, in the history of De Beers, to make it to the fifth floor in shorts.”
He calls back his assistant and asks her to take a photo of us. “For the De Beers newsletter,” he jokes.
De Beers has been the largest diamond mining company in the world since its founding in 1888. For more than a century, the company has run its own mines, bought diamonds from other mines and developed consumer markets for diamonds around the world.
Stephen was one of the first Americans to join the company about 30 years ago when De Beers wanted to grow the US market and needed firsthand insight into consumer behaviour and the image of diamonds among Americans.
Stephen, who had been working for De Beers from a US-based ad agency, seemed the guy for the job: young, educated and up for an adventure. He decided to take the challenge and move to the UK; for a year or two. Today, 30 years later, he’s still here. So our question was: what happened?
“Good question,” says Stephen with a laugh. “Well, first of all, I fell in love with diamonds. The more time you spend with them, the more you discover how unique they are: but it is not only the beauty of a diamond, it is the effect they have on people who wear them, that fascinates me.
“And then every time I thought about moving on, De Beers sent me off to develop another country. For example, in the early 1990s, I was sent to China, to introduce our company and develop a consumer market for diamonds. I’d done a lot of background reading to prepare myself, but as you know yourselves, you can only understand a people or a country by going there and seeing for yourself.
“And I can tell you that nothing, absolutely nothing, was as I expected it to be,” Stephen says. “At the time, there were three jewellers in the whole country, mainly for foreign embassy employees. The Chinese didn’t buy diamond jewellery – it wasn’t part of their culture or tradition. So we had to start from scratch. It was a long, challenging, but very interesting road and today, China is our 2nd largest market and its share of global diamond revenues continues to grow.
“It sounds really interesting,” says Anouk. “Almost like an anthropologist’s job: digging into a culture, understanding its rites and passages and finding a way of introducing your proposition.”
“Interesting you should say that,” says Stephen. “I actually do a lot of work with anthropologists. As you say: to understand behaviour patterns, culture and traditions.”
“So what do you see as your main challenge at the moment?” I ask.
“I was hoping you’d ask that,” Stephen says. “Just to give you the background: De Beers was a mining company for more than a century – we only launched our retail brand in the early 2000s.
“Our slogan, ‘A Diamond is Forever ’, is one of the strongest of the 20th century. But around a decade ago, we suddenly faced a huge challenge: conflict diamonds.
A conflict diamond is a diamond mined in a war zone and sold to finance an insurgency, invading army’s war efforts, or a warlord’s activity.
Suddenly a diamond wasn’t a diamond anymore and the origin became crucial. It changed every aspect of our business, our thinking, our strategy, our operations… Everything.
“For one, we decided to only work with our own mines, to make sure we could always trace the origin. No conflict. This meant our market share went from 70% to 35%. You can imagine what that does to a company: everything needs to be adjusted.
“So how did you manage?”
“We focused 100% on turning things around for ourselves and creating a positive outcome from a tough situation. We decided that instead of promoting the category, we would create our own brand, the Forevermark. We launched it three years ago and we are already way more successful than we could ever have hoped.”
“Interesting,” says Anouk. “So you moved from the category into a specific brand. I’d love to hear more about that.”
“Then let me get you another coffee and I’ll tell you all about it,” says Stephen.
Tags: Stephen Lussier, De Beers, De Beers company, A Diamond is Forever, Forevermark, Meeting Stephen Lussier, Stephen Lussier at de Beers, CoolBrands NextWorld Storytelling, Storytelling, CoolBrands, CoolBrands Storytelling, Stephen Lussier in London