As boss of diamond miner De Beers, Bruce Cleaver is used to a few funny questions. “You always get people asking about how they can get a cheap diamond,” he says. “I have to keep saying ‘it’s not about a cheap diamond! It’s about buying a diamond that you love’.” This is a message Cleaver is keen to repeat: it is about quality, not quantity.
For decades, De Beers was the diamond industry. Thanks to its slogan, “a diamond is forever”, and a vice-like grip on global supply, the company dictated how diamonds were sold. But since 2000, it has retreated due to competition concerns, and is now majority owned by the FTSE 100 miner Anglo American. The financial crisis – a “very, very traumatic event for the diamond industry; you almost couldn’t give a diamond away”, says Cleaver – pushed De Beers into becoming a slimmer operation.
As competition mounts, the miner is also facing an existential battle to convince fickle millennial shoppers that they should still buy diamonds. Can Cleaver keep De Beers relevant?
“You have to keep reinventing yourself,” says Cleaver. “You can’t assume that success in the past is going to deliver success in the future.” One year into the job, he is obviously keen to shake things up, citing a mantra of “partnership, innovation, and investment” as he reels off a list of pilot schemes the 129-year-old firm has begun under his watch.
These pilots range from a project to make De Beers’ mines carbon neutral within 10 years, to auctioning polished stones – an area of the trade it has typically left to middlemen. “These are small things for now but we will take the learnings out of those. Is there margin for us?” Cleaver says, adding: “These are not projects that consume a lot of capital or people.”
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