Legacy of Leadership

“GIA teaches jewellery manufacturing in a novel way, which intrigued me.”
Avinash Pahuja, Managing Director and CEO, Oro Precious Metals,
and GIA Graduate Jeweler (GJ)

Early experiences have an impact on all future endeavours. How did your early exposure to the gem and jewellery industry shape the way you perceive and approach the business today?

I delved into the jewellery industry at a young age. In fact, I started working right after my 10th-grade board exams, literally the day after. It was a whirlwind transition from school life to the bustling store environment.

Initially, it felt overwhelming, like being thrown into the deep end without knowing how to swim. However, I adapted swiftly. Customers were receptive, and my colleagues were patient mentors. Everything seemed straightforward.

Today, people invest years in education before entering the business world. I had a decade head start, which fundamentally altered my journey and approach towards the industry.

Reflecting on your journey, how has your formal education in jewellery manufacturing from GIA influenced your career and how was your experience at the campus?

At 15, I embarked on my journey in the retail store and later joined Inter Gold, albeit briefly, for about six months. During my stint there, I connected with people, observed their practices, and heard about GIA, sparking my interest in the institute. Convincing my parents to let me go to America for education was a challenge due to their fear that I wouldn’t return.

In joint families, differing mind-sets pose challenges. One member’s disagreement could halt progress and allowed for completely alternative avenues, potentially derailing the decision-making process. Family dynamics play a significant role, and many in the industry will relate. Change is sometimes met with resistance, as people favour proven methods because businesses in the gem and jewellery industry are risk-averse. However, I believe, it’s crucial to persist and push boundaries, even if mistakes are inevitable—they are the stepping stones to growth.

Could you talk us through a little bit about the growth you and the business witnessed and if you could share some valuable insights into the challenges you encountered while scaling both within India and internationally?

Right after I came back from GIA, we went through a family separation. There were five brothers; everybody split. After I came back I started a retail store. I managed it at the age of 20 for three years, and unfortunately, it didn’t do well. Eventually, I decided I had to close it down. However, the fact that I closed it at the right time was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. If I had clung on to it due to societal expectations (“log kya kahenge”), I would have missed out on pursuing my true passion of jewellery manufacturing that I learnt in GIA.

That’s when we decided to start the entire factory from scratch. This transformation began in 1997, and we built it up from the ground, taking it to new heights. Then in 2010, we expanded our operations by starting a factory in Dubai. The period immediately after GIA was marked by de-growth rather than expansion. However, this period taught me that following one’s passion leads to success, with financial rewards naturally following suit.

Over the years, technology has become the heartbeat of every business operation and have best-in-class systems and processes. Please share your approach and how one can improve operational efficiencies in a manufacturing set-up.

At Oro, we’re all about tech. We see ourselves as an engineering company that happens to make jewellery. Our systems are rock-solid and unyielding because we’ve established a culture of zero trust reliance. It starts with me; I undergo the same checks as everyone else when entering or leaving the factory. No exceptions.

In an industry built on trust, we’ve engineered our systems to eliminate the over-dependence on trust. Checks and self-checks are the norm. It’s fascinating how this approach reshapes our perspective.

In 1994, I set foot in Los Angeles (L.A.), marking a life-changing experience. The Santa Monica campus was relatively small at the time, but it was a profoundly overwhelming experience for me. GIA taught jewellery manufacturing in a novel way, which intrigued me. Daily, I compared the methods taught at GIA to our traditional factory back home, sparking internal debates about the right approach going forward.

The campus itself was remarkable, with a clean, efficient setup and small, interactive classes of around 16 students. The daily schedule ran from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., leaving me with ample free time to explore L.A. Those days at GIA reshaped my perspective and left an indelible mark.

Coming from a family-owned business yourself can you share your perspective on what you see as the distinctive advantages and challenges of operating within a family-run jewellery business, particularly during the transition from one generation to the next?

Upon returning from GIA, I discussed the changes we needed to make in our business with my family. There was a lot of resistance; a very simple example was our gold melting process. We were handling massive volumes at that time, and melting gold through a manual process was a mammoth task. GIA used a regular electric furnace, a simple yet alien concept to us. This transition was monumental.

We hear opposing views from the industry about the availability of jewellery design talent – some say there’s a dearth and some say there’s a good size of talent pool available. Your views? And how do organisations like yours retain jewellery design talent?

In the jewellery industry, design is our starting point. Amidst considerations like manufacturing efficiency and trust, design takes precedence. We have a talented team of designers, ensuring they have comfortable workspaces and creative freedom to motivate them to stay and thrive.

As design always comes first, good designers are precious. You need to intellectually challenge them constantly. Also, don’t hesitate to hire more than you think you need. If you want one, hire three, as attrition happens. People usually leave due to poor managers. So, building strong, respectful leaders is crucial to retaining your team. It’s about cultivating a culture of respect from top to bottom. Leading by example sets the tone for the entire organisation.

Can you share a specific accomplishment or milestone in your career that you believe will be remembered as a significant part of your legacy?

I believe this significant turning point involves recognising and addressing bottlenecks that hinder business operations. Many possess the right recipe but struggle to replicate it consistently. For instance, I relocated from our old factory to a new, much larger one two years ago. The decision to expand was taken when I was at Harvard Business School studying Owner/President Management programme in 2016.

I realised the limited production capacity in my existing setup. So, I set ambitious goals, acquiring more land than necessary and constructing a larger factory with extensive infrastructure. I envisioned it as a highway, ensuring I had the infrastructure to support my business’s growth.

Having the knowledge and product is essential. But, it’s like having a good car without the right infrastructure or roads to drive on – it’s futile. This shift in perspective helped reshaped the business growth trajectory. So, my advice is not to hold back on your dreams and ensure your strategy and infrastructure align.

Excerpts taken from GIA India’s Legacy of Leadership Knowledge Series interview conducted live on Zoom. Attendance by invitation only. Register on collective.GIA.edu as GIA alumni to get notified about upcoming events.

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