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REACTION: Industry responds to Willie Hamilton’s departure

Following the news this morning that Willie Hamilton has stepped down from his role as chief executive with the CMJ, Ruth Faulkner talks to some of those in the industry who knew him or have worked with him to get their reaction to the news.

There is no doubt that the Company of Master Jewellers (CMJ) took a risk when it employed Willie Hamilton as chief executive. He was an unknown in industry terms, having come from the Co-operative Group, and having someone from outside the trade lead the organisation wasn’t something which had been done before in jewellery buying group circles nor, indeed, in the wider jewellery industry all that much.

This trade is, after all, known as one dominated by family businesses and companies within it are often headed up by those who have been in the industry for a very long time.

Judith Hart of Judith Hart Jewellers in Derby was on the board of CMJ when Hamilton was appointed. “I was one of the CMJ directors that appointed Willie ten years ago and I always wondered how long CMJ would keep him with us,” she explained. “His experience was far above the original brief for a chief executive at the time he joined us.”

Speaking to those in the industry who were involved with the CMJ both before and since Hamilton’s appointment, there is a common theme which emerges and that is that the buying group is today a totally different beast from the one he inherited from former chief executive David Patterson in January 2007.

Gary Williams director of Presman Mastermelt commented: “He [Hamilton] came into a small, not particularly forward thinking buying group and made it into a much more professional, stronger, forward thinking, industry body and showed people just what the CMJ could be. He should be recognised for all that he has done in making the CMJ what it is today.”

This is a view shared by Victoria McKay chief operating officer at the London Diamond Bourse who added: “Ten years ago, Willie began a mission to aggressively upend the CMJ. Just look at what the organisation was then compared to where it is today.”

John Ball director of Brown & Newirth was also quick to praise the development of CMJ under Hamilton’s stewardship. He said: “Today, the industry surely cannot fail to recognise and appreciate how, under the leadership and vision of Willie Hamilton, the CMJ has witnessed the most tremendous success.”

Karl Massey, director of independent retailer Prestons, said it was solely due to Hamilton that his business joined the CMJ. “Willie has been the face of the CMJ and the larger than life personality that continually banged the drum for it.

“It was down to Willie’s persistence that Prestons joined the CMJ and, at the time, I could see no perceived benefit, as it was pre our Pandora franchises.”

Ethical jewellery campaigner Greg Valerio believes that Hamilton should also be recognised for all that he has done in bringing the issue of ethical sourcing to the fore in the industry. He said: “If it wasn’t for the likes of him, we never would have made half the progress we have made.”

Simon Johnson, chairman of the National Association of Jewellers added: “We bid fare-well to a passionate marketer who supported and grew his membership, alongside vigorously promoting more traceability and usage of Fairtrade materials, especially for the vibrant bridal market.”

Looking ahead to the future, it is agreed by many in the industry that Hamilton’s own brand of passion and commitment will be difficult to replicate. Massey added: “It will be interesting to see how they replace him. He will be a hard act to follow.”

While Hart said: “Such a wealth of experience, ability and vision is going to be difficult to replace.”

However, most agree that the important thing for the organisation now, is to steady the ship during this period of change. McKay concluded: “A chief executive stepping down from any organisation will always bring about change but, we look forward to this being another positive chapter in CMJ’s history.”

On behalf of the NAJ, Johnson added: “Despite the recent changes in management we are confident that the CMJ will continue to prosper and add value and support to all its members and suppliers.

“The NAJ team and National Committee look forward to continuing to work closely with the established CMJ team and board members alongside their new chairman Michael Aldridge.”