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Stephen Lussier: Building the diamond dream



Stephen Lussier: Building the diamond dream

A storied four-decade career at De Beers, one that began almost by chance, marks a major turn as Stephen Lussier embarks on his new role as chairman of the Natural Diamond Council. We profile the widely admired leader, as a new CEO readies in the wings.

Thirty-seven years with De Beers have given Stephen Lussier a view along every thread of the fabric of the global natural diamond industry. As group executive vice-president for brands and consumer markets, Lussier brought a new direction and energy to the mining giant. It is this role he is now relinquishing.

How did Lussier first encounter De Beers? By thanking his stars that it wasn’t a macaroni-and-cheese company! Lussier was a fresh hire at the storied N W Ayer advertising agency in Philadelphia, USA, in 1981. As he tells the story: “It was my first day as a management trainee. The executive VP started briefing me about each of the accounts I could work on. Behind him were two shelves [with] images of the accounts he was responsible for. There was a diamond next to an image of macaroni that caught my attention and, out of extraordinary luck, he uttered ‘De Beers’.” It was the name that would define his career.

In Lussier’s case, inspiration, not necessity, was the mother of invention. Working for the miner in Africa, he was often out of the cities. The intense, star-studded night sky, he says, kindled an idea for the brand identity of De Beers’ responsibly mined diamonds. “The starry sky provided a glimpse of the eternity that stars hold. I could only equate that with the value of rare, natural diamonds. That is how the logo of Forevermark came into being, with the shapes of a diamond and a star connected together,” he explains.

What kept this bright and thoughtful worker in the same company for so many years, Lussier says, is people, product and passion — according to him, the three noble traits of the global diamond industry. These traits have given a can-do attitude to the industry, particularly in India and Italy, he observes, two markets that have innovated and advanced with great speed. “That is because of the entrepreneurial nature of the diamond players in each of these markets,” he says. “Businesses defined by entrepreneurs can be very interesting and engaging. They enjoy developing the category.”

After all these years handling diamonds and building demand for them across the world, the gems have not ceased to amaze Lussier. He professes himself overawed by the fire and brilliance of a perfectly cut diamond, and deeply satisfied to have worked with a product whose youngest exemplar is 700 million years old. Pleasure has translated into success for Lussier and the many stakeholders of the industry, whose work results in the happiness of diamond consumers.

When De Beers entered India’s conservative gems and jewellery market, in the mid-1990s, it was still dominated by the age-old view of gold jewellery as a store of value, that is, a way of saving for a rainy day. Diamonds were considered a plaything of the super-elite. All this changed, Lussier says, from the time of the Nakshatra marketing campaign, which he calls the first icebreaker. “This was the first campaign starring Aishwarya Rai,” he says, and it “changed Indian customers’ perspective towards diamonds.”

Another equally important milestone, he says, “was Forevermark’s first retail partnership in Bengaluru. The entrepreneurial attitude of the Indian diamond industry embraced the brand value of Forevermark diamonds through shop-in-shop and branded doors, bringing De Beers Forevermark to its current presence of over 270 doors in 56 markets.”

Lussier’s love for natural diamonds keeps him in the industry. As chairman of the Natural Diamond Council, he champions the cause of natural diamonds. Digitisation has had a tremendous impact on the global natural diamond industry, he says, by making it imperative as well as possible for miners, manufacturers and retailers to credibly assure consumers about the origin of each and every gem. It is now entirely the norm for a diamond to come with a guarantee of provenance, a measure that also helps to secure its long-term value.

Lussier passes the torch at De Beers to Marc Jacheet, the current CEO of De Beers’ brands and former president of Tiffany & Co., Europe, Middle East and Africa. Jacheet, too, has a wealth of experience, with 25 years in the luxury industry as a marketer. He is the right person, Lussier believes, to keep the diamond dream alive and glowing.

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