Last week, the National Assoication of Jewellers announced Harriet Kelsall as the new chair of the Association.
Here, she discusses the new role, her immediate plans, and what the next few years might look like for the NAJ…
What has prompted you to get so actively involved in the Association and how do you feel about your new role?
When I first joined the BJA and NAG (as they were then) I had been building my business successfully for a few years but felt as though I was working in a vacuum. But once I became a member all that changed – I made contacts, got ideas and met people in the same situation as me. It was a breath of fresh air and I loved it; I wished I’d joined sooner!
Becoming more involved was a gradual thing. I was asked to join a committee and I was initially terrified – important people sitting round a big shiny boardroom table! But I realised that part of our job is to give something back, help people to build better businesses – younger people in particular.
When Gary Wroe asked me to become vice-chair, which is a position that works towards becoming chair after two years, I was excited. But there was a lot to learn and it’s a big responsibility.
Being a designer, manufacturer and retailer is an advantage, but it’s a very big industry and I’m not prepared for all of it, so I have spent the last two years getting to know and understand the various segments.
What has that entailed?
I began by setting up the Education Steering Group – which I have now passed on to Heather Callaway – as I wanted the JET courses to benefit the whole of the newly merged association. And I’ve established the Better Business Group, looking at issues like legal compliance and finance as well as responsible sourcing and sustainability… all aiming to enable designers, manufacturers, retailers and other jewellery professionals to live up to our core values of honesty, integrity and professionalism.
I also want to help foster an environment of collaboration across the industry and have been working with [outgoing chairman] Simon Johnson to do this.
I’ve got to know the IRVs and been to Loughborough (something else I should have done ages ago; it’s amazing – everyone should go!) and I’ve been to the JET Business Network Congress, which is also brilliant, and has helped me to better understand retailers.
Now you’re in this role, what are your priorities for the future?
Together with CEO Simon Forrester I want to work towards improving the governance of the NAJ. We’ll bring together high quality, expert volunteers in a way that gets the best out of them – for the industry and themselves – so that we are well equipped to steer the direction of the Association… furthering our mission to increase consumer confidence in buying jewellery.
So, what’s on the immediate agenda?
Top of the list is to deliver a brilliant new NAJ website. We aim to provide members with the tools they need to run their businesses better, so that will be at its core – lots of links, signposts and helpful information, which we’ll deliver in stages. The website will also be more customer-facing.
We’ll also be looking at industry skills, including our education offering. The Association will be committed to being at the forefront of retail and manufacturing apprenticeships, so we’re looking to add value here. We should be even more able to help start-ups – the industry needs fresh creativity; these are the people who’ll be showing us the way in the future, so we need a membership structure in place that helps budding businesses.
We’ll be continuing with our mentoring programme, making improvements where needed.
What other aims do you have for the next few years?
The NAJ must be relevant to all its members. And because I have benefitted so much from this, I want to make sure that we offer lots of networking opportunities – for inspiration, for doing business and for friendship. I also want to help make sure that the UK still leads the way in jewellery responsibility and ethics.
We’ve made a lot of progress in the last 20 years, but there’s still a long way to go and the NAJ should signpost the way.
And what’s in it for you?
The same as it would be for anyone who decides to get involved with the Association – helping people feels good! But beyond thinking altruistically, I’ve benefitted from the advice of friends and contacts who I’ve met by sitting on the committees and steering group; now whenever I have a question or need a contact, I know exactly which friend to ask. Being part of such an amazing network has helped my business, naturally. After a few years I now understand the shape of things and if I can help others, I want to do that. I just hope that I can now live up to people’s expectations.
This interview was conducted by the NAJ and was first published on its website. The Association has given Professional Jeweller permission to share it.