Following the news on Friday (May 19) that chief executive Michael Rawlinson has resigned from his position at the National Association of Jewellers, Ruth Faulkner considers what this news means for the future of the industry trade body.
It scarcely seems like almost two years ago that key players in the industry gathered in the unique setting of Goldsmiths’ Hall to witness history being made when members of the then National Association of Goldsmiths (NAG) and the British Jewellers’ Association (BJA) voted to become one unified trade association – the National Association of Jewellers (NAJ).
While there were some who had made disgruntled noises about the merger, the majority were in favour of the move, viewing it as the best way forward for the good of the trade. A trade which, in the advent of ecommerce and in light of the changing face of retail, had seen the lines between supplier and retailer blur, so much so that two separate trade associations representing each group was now deemed somewhat unnecessary.
Credit must be given to the respective chief executives of both organisations at that time – Simon Rainer at the BJA and Michael Rawlinson at the NAG – for bringing the majority of their membership with them on this journey to unification, as well as to the hard work done by the unification committee, which resulted in the eventual yes vote in favour of the merger.
There then followed a tense time for both chief execs as members of the committees of the two organisations made the decision as to which one would be best placed to lead the association forward into the future, and when Rawlinson was announced as chief executive of the newly formed NAJ on July 20, 2015, many in the trade were quick to offer their support and praise in favour of the decision.
There can be no denying that Rawlinson had a big job on his hands. The hard work of actually unifying the two bodies only really started after the vote. Merging two organisations with such a diverse membership, which had historically represented completely different factions of the trade, was never going to be easy, and that is before we even consider all of the associated red tape, which was bound to be par for the course when it came to a task of such enormity. Plus, we have all heard the age-old adage that there is no job lonelier than that of the chief executive.
It was therefore a task that only a few could, or would have wanted, to have handled and, whatever your feelings about what the NAJ has or hasn’t done under Rawlinson’s stewardship, he has, as he alluded to in his resignation letter, achieved the goal of bringing the two associations together.
In under two years, the NAJ has become one unified association and the key to its success is going to hinge on what happens next. At this early stage, few details have been given yet about the search for a replacement. Michael Donaldson is believed to be stepping into the organisation in a consultancy role on an interim basis until a new chief executive has been recruited and, as is always the way in this trade, speculation is already rife about who could be lined up to take the reins.
Naturally, everyone will have an opinion on this score, but it certainly isn’t a done deal. The organisation will want to, and very much should, take its time to ensure that whoever is appointed is the right person for the job and it would be wise to look outside the industry as well as from within it.
Whoever comes next will have a different job on their hands to the one held by Rawlinson, but make no mistake, it will be no less difficult. If anything, with the unification now complete, the new chief executive will be expected to make a very significant and immediate impact.
In my view, a trade association’s remit is to work for the good of the industry, not only within the confines of the trade, but perhaps more importantly, outside it, promoting the work that is done in the industry to the wider public.
It is no secret that the jewellery trade, like many other industries, has faced many challenges over the last 12 months, having been hit hard by the likes of Brexit, rising cost pressures, and changes in business rates and administrations. Now, more than ever, it needs a strong trade association with a strong leader to take it forward and capitalise on all the great things this industry has to offer.