Bates: De Beers' Appointment of Cleaver as CEO Reassures Sightholders

Opinion piece
30/05/2016 14:58

Rob Bates of JCK writes that De Beers sightholders are likely to be relieved by the appointment of Bruce Cleaver to replace Phillippe Mellier as CEO, noting that he is already "striking a different tone than his predecessor." Bates summarizes Mellier's tumultuous five-year tenure, during which, "Oppenheimer’s family sold its shares to Anglo American, De Beers transferred sales to Botswana, the company settled its U.S. antitrust issues, and it decided to move from its longtime home on Charterhouse Street. Amid all this, the bottom fell out at parent company Anglo American, banks fled the industry, and the market in Asia crashed and burned." As for his decisions as CEO, "De Beers shut down the Snap Lake mine in Canada. It opened a grading lab and secondhand buying service. It changed the criteria for sightholders, requiring clients to have their businesses audited and placing a greater emphasis on online auctions." And while a darling of shareholders, Mellier's relationship with sightholders was not all that smooth, as he famously quipped that, "I am not responsible for the margin of my customer. They are responsible for their margin. It is down to them to maximize their profitability."

Bates notes that while many sightholders were not a fan of Melliers', the situation had stabilized and they "dreaded" the turmoil of a new CEO. "That won’t happen with Bruce Cleaver. A button-down, hyperrational former lawyer with an applied mathematics degree, he has always been well regarded, and when he left De Beers for Anglo six months ago for what turned out to be a short-lived sojourn, some considered it a loss ... Cleaver is already striking a different tone than his predecessor, specifically addressing De Beers’ sometimes-rocky relations with its clients. 'Our sightholders are core stakeholders to De Beers,' Cleaver said. 'If we succeed, they succeed.' Cleaver also says several times that De Beers 'is a business of relationships' - language that also had been very much missing over the last few years. Bruce Cleaver understands De Beers, the diamond industry, and the challenges both face. He does not have a fresh pair of eyes. But that may just be what the industry needs."