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De Beers holds first sight in Botswana

By Michelle Graff

November 12, 2013

Gaborone, Botswana--This week marks De Beers’ inaugural sight in Gaborone following the relocation of its sales activities from London to Botswana, a move that has been two years in the making.

De Beers first announced that it would be moving its sorting operations some 5,400 miles south in September 2011 when it inked a new 10-year sales agreement with the Botswana government

The move impacted about 120 members of De Beers’ London-based staff and about 80 of them opted to make the move, with Batswanas accounting for the other 50 percent of the 160-member Botswana-based team.

 Among those who won’t be making Gaborone a permanent home is Varda Shine. About two weeks ago, news surfaced that Shine, the executive vice president of global sightholder sales, would be stepping down at the end of January to “explore other opportunities.”

Paul Rowley, the senior vice president of midstream operations for global sightholder sales at De Beers, will replace Shine, who was with the company for more than 30 years.

Rumors about Shine’s imminent departure had been circulating for some time, citing conflict between her and De Beers Group CEO Philippe Mellier. On Thursday, Diamond Intelligence Briefs (DIB) reported that De Beers chose not to renew Shine’s contract even after she had asked to stay on board for another two years.

A De Beers spokeswoman called the DIB report “inaccurate.”

“After completing the migration of De Beers’ sales activities from London to Gaborone, Varda took the decision that after a 30-year career with De Beers, and eight heading up the DTC /global sightholder sales, the relocation of the organization provided a clear point of transition for the business and her career,” spokeswoman Lynette Gould said. “Varda has been grooming a highly experienced leadership team for a number of years and her successor Paul Rowley comes into the role with decades of experience and strong relationships with both sightholders and governments built over years.”

Ben Janowski, a New York-based diamond industry analyst who heads Janos Consultants, said Shine’s departure did not surprise him in the least.

He said it is probably the result of a combination of factors: a new CEO with different ideas about how to run the business--Mellier joined the company in July 2011 from Alstom Transport--and the prospect of relocating to a city with a completely different lifestyle with a company that has a somewhat limited future.

Janowski said De Beers encompasses its diamond mines in Botswana, a few mines in other locations and the Forevermark program. This, perhaps, is not enough to convince executives like Shine and other employees that it’s worth their while to uproot their lives, he said.

Shine’s not the first high-ranking executive to not make the transition to Botswana. Over the summer, news surfaced that Mahiar Borhanjoo, De Beers vice president of global sightholder sales, wouldn’t be relocating. Industry sources tell National Jeweler that the resignation of another top executive is expected in the next couple of weeks.

“Is this really a future for De Beers?” Janowski said of the mines and Forevermark. “It doesn’t sound like much.”

He added that it was not a new topic. “There’s been an issue for years about where De Beers is going.”

De Beers’ first sight in Botswana runs through Thursday.