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De Beers Stepping into a New Era
The move represents only one amongst the many changes which De Beers has undergone in the last decade.
By: Diamond World News Service
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Jul 18 2011 12:42PM
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Reference: 6161  

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The appointment of Philippe Mellier as the new CEO of the De Beers Group came as a bolt out of the blue for the diamond industry. By now, the gamut of common reactions has been run – a man not only from outside the company, but a man who has had nothing to do with diamonds professionally, Mellier’s appointment represents a complete break with tradition. Startling as it is at first glance, the move represents only one amongst the many changes which De Beers has undergone in the last decade - and - a - half – in terms of its policies, strategies, indeed in its entirety. From having an overwhelmingly major control over the rough market, its left with a greatly decreased share; the company has gone from being custodian of the industry to becoming the Supplier of Choice; from supply-led to demand driven; from being publicly listed to becoming privatised. On the other hand it is a brave new world out there as well: the cool dim confines of 17 Charterhouse Street could hardly hope to remain cocooned from the raucous cries of awakening African nations, the strident demands of Asian markets or even the strangled moans of western economies. A New World always demands new ways of dealing with it. Maybe a completely fresh start is Nicky Oppenheimer’s way of stepping into the Future. Is De Beers poised on the threshold of a new era? Nilan Singh looks at De Beers’ journey in the recent past, the world it finds itself in and poses some key questions. Nicky Oppenheimer, Chairman of the De Beers Group, graciously answers, spelling out his thinking. Chaim Even-Zohar, profound industry analyst and writer, on his part, fields some posers as well.

Almost for a year after former De Beers Group CEO Gareth Penny’s impending departure was announced, there was still no sign of a new incumbent on the horizon. That should have indicated that something unusual was in the offing. The announcement of Philippe Mellier – then Executive Vice President Alstom and President of the company’s Transport Sector – as the next CEO caused a great deal of amazement in the first instance. As one startledsounding media report put it, “In a surprise a p p o i n t m e n t , diamond giant De Beers has appointed Philippe Mellier as chief executive, a mechanical engineer with a background in cars and trains and no experience in diamonds or South Africa.”

However, within the diamond industry surprise quickly turned to a welcoming of the move by many. “The new appointment is a positive development,” said Antwerp-based Jacky Tache of Tache Diamonds. “The fact that Mr. Mellier comes from a different industry indicates a change of policy in the long term. I personally believe that our industry needs cross fertilisation to gain an insight into what other industries are doing to rethink the way we do business.”

Bharat Diamond Bourse President and sightholder Anoop Mehta of Mohit Diamonds said the appointment of someone from outside the industry was “good” for much the same reasons as did a few other non-sightholder diamantaires one spoke to.

“Sometimes when you think out-of-the-box, you get fresh ideas, new ideas and that helps a lot,” commented Mehul Choksi of the Gitanjali Group, one of India’s largest retailers with multiple brands in its portfolio.

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