he American Gem Society and AGS Laboratories announced last week that Ruth Batson, CEO of both organizations, will retire in June 2017. She has been a part of AGS for 23 years, which represents her entire career in the jewelry industry.
In her early days on the job as a controller, she quickly learned just how much she didn’t know.
“When I first came to work I had no experience in the jewelry industry; I was responsible for inventory management and I remember sitting in a meeting with the executive director and other members of the management team. And I told them I thought we were getting low on the pamphlet on periDOT, (pronouncing it as DOT not DOH.) And everyone just stared at me. I realized I had a whole lot to learn!”
Scott Berg, president-elect of the AGS board of directors said Batson will be greatly missed. “She has protected the Society’s many assets and ensured its long-term sustainability during her tenure. The Society is on a strong financial footing, which is directly related to her outstanding management.”
AGS President Louis Smith said Batson has built a strong team and made a lasting impact on the history of AGS. “We are forever grateful for her service and contribution to the American Gem Society and AGS Laboratories. She will always be part of the AGS family.”
Batson credits that strong team for her success.
“You have to hire good people, you have to nurture and support them because you are only as successful as the people who work for you want you to be,” Batson says. “ If I can feel good about something, any time I hear someone say AGS has done great under my leadership, I know it is because of the fantastic team we put together at headquarters.”
Batson plans to split her time in retirement between her home in Las Vegas and a ranch in Montana. "I was one of those little girls, who everything I owned had a picture of a horse on it, and I always was fascinated with the idea of horses,” Batson said. "I have never owned one. But it’s always been a dream of mine as long as I remember. And the idea of being off the grid as I’ve gotten older sounds really nice. My husband has always wanted to be a cowboy, and together we’ve merged our dreams.”
In an interview last week, Batson began to reflect on what her time with AGS has meant to her.
Q. What do you like most about the jewelry industry?
A. Having only worked for the American Gem Society I have this view that our members are really the heart and the soul of America -- family owned independent jewelers who are still living the American dream. I’ve always felt in awe of that. Working with them and finding ways to help them achieve their goals has been incredibly rewarding, and of course the mission of consumer protection is also very rewarding. I fell in love with everything about the jewelry industry -- and that includes the products.
Q. Can you share some of your favorite parts of the job?
A. Working with volunteers that are so committed to this organization. I often wonder how they find the time to travel to meetings and do the things that they do as volunteers, all for the good of this organization. It’s great to work with that caliber of people. Being in a leadership role in an office; building a management team and mentoring others along the way have all been rewarding. Also, I got to be a part of a start up business. It’s not often you work with an association that’s 80 years old and get to be part of a start up business, and that was our lab, the AGS Lab.
Q. What has been your biggest priority as CEO of the AGS?
A. It is making sure that every decision we make works toward the mission of consumer protection. What could be a more noble mission? We always think about that with every decision we make in the lab or at the society. That’s the biggest priority -- and continuing to build the importance with consumers of shopping with American Gem Society retailers.
Q. What memories will always stand out for you?
A. I have some wonderful memories of great mentors – Al Woodill, Herb Bridge, Fred Weber. Al had my job for over 40 years; he’s 96 years old now and he’s still a mentor to me.
Q. Can you compare the biggest challenge jewelry retailers faced 25 years ago, to the biggest challenge they face today?
A. One of the challenges 25 years ago had to do with alternative forms of distribution; catalogs or shopping networks that changed up the way that people saw jewelry and bought jewelry. And that’s still a challenge today with the Internet, and getting our independents to create a robust online presence in order to meet the expectations of the customers who want information about jewelry and who want to see pieces of jewelry before they come into the store.
But I think that today jewelry store perpetuation is the biggest challenge. Succession planning and store transition to new owners, as our membership base is aging, is a huge challenge, and not just for AGS but for the industry.
There are also consumer-confidence issues today. That’s why it’s important that members stay up to date with gemology and with our global jewelry family.
Q. What would you like independent jewelers to know about the American Gem Society?
A. It’s so important today when you’re talking about trust and consumer confidence, that the idea of being a professional could not be more important. And for the American Gem Society, Robert Shipley figured out the magic formula to that. Education plus ethics, that’s what we provide. Credentials certifying that people have met a level of education, plus they are committed to ethical business practices.
Robert Shipley said the reason you need education and ethics together is because an ethical jeweler who is not educated can mislead the consumer through ignorance. And a very educated jeweler who does not have ethical standards can mislead a customer through their knowledge. It’s a proven fact that if you do have both you will be successful in the long term. So the AGS is a wonderful tool for the industry.
Q. What are your goals for your remaining time in the job?
A. What I’m focusing on in the next few months is the Conclave in Washington, DC. I’m also working on the search committee to find my replacement and onboarding the next CEO. We have a great team here and I’m very confident the society will continue to be successful and in good hands. It was successful before Ruth Batson came into its life and it will be successful after I leave.
Batson also serves on the boards of the Women’s Jewelry Association, Jewelers Vigilance Committee, Jewelers for Children, U.S. Jewelry Council, JCK Show Advisory Board, and Chair of the Ethical Initiatives Committee for the Jewelers of America. Her recent achievements include the Excellence in Service Award from the Women’s Jewelry Association (2010), the Jewelers for Children Facets of Hope honoree (2012), the Doyenne of the Year Award (2013) from the Indian Diamond & Colored Stone Association, and in 2014, she won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Jewelry Association.