Gem-A must ensure that a bright dawn follows its darkest time

LONDON - MARCH 02:  A general view of Wembley Stadium at sunrise on March 2, 2007 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

It is tempting to search for a single event that triggered the maelstrom engulfing Gem-A this year, but the reality is a little more prosaic – a simple clash between chairman and CEO that cost both of them their positions, Rob Corder reports.

Jason Williams, chairman until May 13 this year, and James Riley, CEO, had a strained relationship for well over a year, according to sources close to the events. That strain erupted into seething warfare earlier this year as accusations were fired back and forth between the two men.

Think Gordon Brown versus Tony Blair in the death throes of the Blair government.

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Other members of the Gem-A board had their loyalties to each of the men tested, and sought cover by instructing lawyers to mediate and protect the organisation.

Those lawyers were called upon earlier this year when a questionable expenses claim by Mr. Riley came to light.

He had been on a Gem-A business trip to Australia when a recurring problem with his back flared up and he paid for three sessions at a local massage parlour to relieve the pain.

What exactly happened during those massage sessions will probably never be known, but Mr. Riley told Professional Jeweller that he later learned the establishment was a brothel.

Mr. Riley was suspended while the matter was investigated, but Gem-A members were kept in the dark about the reason. Harry Levy told Professional Jeweller last month that it was not a police matter, but that did not dampen wild speculation that a major crime had been committed.

The oldest advice when faced with public relations disaster is to tell the truth; tell the whole truth. Gem-A did precisely the opposite; attempting to silence the media and micro-managing complaints and questions from members.

The problem is that this is a story that easily passes the test of whether it is in the public interest to publish it. The fact that Gem-A is a registered charity with revenue of over £2.4 million means that its activities and behaviour should meet the highest ethical standards.

The board of Trustees that have overseen this debacle is now threadbare. The resignation of chairman Jason Williams made way for Jessica Cadzow-Collins to become interim chair, but she tendered her resignation on July 10.

Jonathan Lambert resigned last week after an attempt to agree a severance package with Mr. Riley fell apart. Nigel Israel, Miranda Wells and Mary Burland effectively hold the reins of power until Council elections at the end of August.

Harry Levy, whose role as president is more ceremonial than executive, could be the only unifying figure who can steer Gem-A off the rocks.

Gem-A is responsible for hugely important work in educating gemmology students and professionals around the world. Its hard-working staff deserves considerably better leadership, and it can only be hoped that the board of trustees that is elected at the end of August will get the institution focused back on its core mission and this annus horribilis can put behind it.



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