Today, business is global. That means your team is not just your team. Your team is also your extended team. It includes people in different parts of the world. You always have to appreciate other people’s perspectives, because they’re inevitably going to be different at times due to certain cultural norms and ways of doing business. Have empathy for everyone. No one is necessarily more important than the other in this global scheme we work in. It’s like a puzzle, and we all have to, to some extent, fit together and work together.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Foerster, the President of Alrosa USA — the Russian diamond giant that mines more diamonds than any other company in the world. She is involved in all aspects of work at their U.S. affiliate office in New York. She is responsible for the development of rough and polished diamond sales trade and customer relations, marketing program development and implementation, and market research. Rebecca is also the former Executive Vice President of Strategic Planning and Marketing for Leo Schachter Diamonds (one of the largest diamond suppliers in the U.S.), and before joining them in 2014, she was Vice President, in charge of Rio Tinto’s North America’s representative office. Ms. Foerster has an extensive background in marketing and branding across a number of industries. Prior to joining Rio Tinto, Ms. Foerster worked for nine years as Vice President of Marketing for Frederick Goldman, where she launched major brands such as Keepsake and CutCarved. She has also worked in the U.S. fragrance and cosmetic industries at companies such as Elizabeth Arden, Revlon, and the Lancaster Group. Ms. Foerster serves on the Board of Directors for the Diamond Empowerment Fund, the Women’s Jewelry Association, and the Jewelers Vigilance Committee. She is also on the Executive Committee, and chairs the Marketing Committee for the Diamond Empowerment Fund.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I began my career in advertising in the cosmetic and fragrance industries. Then I got my MBA in Marketing and moved on to the client side where I worked for companies like Estee Lauder, Revlon, and the Lancaster Group. I really enjoyed those industries because of the emphasis they put on marketing.
At the time, the jewelry industry was just starting to understand the importance of branding. They realized that if they didn’t create stories and brands, the industry would become commoditized.
I was recruited into the jewelry industry by a headhunter in the 80s. For me, it was an interesting opportunity to transfer some of the marketing and branding principles I learned, to an industry that didn’t understand the importance of differentiation and creating consumer value propositions that would ultimately add value to their product.
Transferring this knowledge into the jewelry industry was challenging — the big difference between beauty and jewelry is margin. One of the things we struggle with in the diamond industry is small margins because of the supply chain.
With so many people in the supply chain, there’s less margin to use for marketing and promotion. But the supply chain is becoming more transparent, and marketing and branding has to become more important. Storytelling is at the forefront of everything today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
It was probably my trip to Russia. I’ve never been there, and a lot of people I knew were really apprehensive about me going by myself. But it was a great trip, and I can’t wait to go back.
Moscow is a beautiful city, very welcoming, full of history and culture. It’s much more European than I expected. And to see the Kremlin, Red Square, the churches, and all of the history there, was just incredible. I even got to see an opera at the Bolshoi Theater, and dine at an authentic Siberian restaurant.
The trip reinforced my decision to join ALROSA and be a part of this reputable and responsible company that I am very proud of, because of all of the community and charity work they do, as well as their commitment to sustainability.
As an American, I am trying to keep politics out of it. I don’t think politics has anything to do with bringing consumers happiness and joy through wonderful and beautiful things.
I also don’t really see that much of a cultural difference in terms of how we think or strategize. Today, the world is so global/international. Smart people are smart people, no matter where they live. Strategic people are strategic people, and good marketing people are good marketing people. We all look for the same data and analyze things in the same way.
I am adaptable because of my global experience in so many different countries. I’ve been to Australia and the Arctic circle. I’ve spent months in India, lived in Belgium and in London, and traveled all over Europe.
My next trip will be to Yakutia, Siberia. I believe if you are going to be a representative of a company, you actually have to experience the mines so you can say you were there and you saw the people.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve been trying to learn some Russian because there are a lot of people in the company who don’t speak English. One day I walked into the office and asked “How are you?” but my accent and lack of experience with the language made everyone laugh (not at me, but with me.) My effort to learn the language was well received as a sign of respect.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The time for ALROSA is really now because of what’s happening in the U.S. in the jewelry and diamond industries. Everything is shifting towards provenance (the chronology of the ownership or location) and transparency. There’s no company better positioned than ALROSA to meet the needs of luxury brands or retailers looking to make sure their diamonds have that value proposition.
Every day I get calls from retailers looking to see if we are willing to become a supplier or help them with their business, because they’ve made declarations that all of their diamonds are going to have provenance and transparency. That’s the promise they are making to their consumers.
By tracking diamonds from mine to market, we can guarantee consumers that they are buying a natural diamond. We can be an example within the industry of how to be sustainable and do things properly — this should provide us a lot of business opportunities.
Our company also stands out because, as of 2017, it implemented over 500 social and charitable initiatives. The company finances regional development programs, social infrastructure, charitable and sponsorship projects, corporate social programs for employees and their families, and renders targeted aid to residents of the main regions of its presence. This has resulted in the company being recently awarded the Diamond Empowerment Fund’s 2019 “Diamonds Do Good Community Stewardship Award.” This is such a big achievement for our company because the Diamond Empowerment Fund is a remarkable nonprofit organization whose mission is to support initiatives that develop and empower people in diamond communities worldwide.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are working on many new marketing initiatives that are going to create demand for new diamond categories that have never been promoted this way before. We can’t really talk about that in detail, but so far the consumer research we’ve done and the retailer response we’ve received for our concepts, has been really strong. In the industry, this will add excitement to product that offer a unique value proposition and a unique feature of a diamond that people have never seen before.
We are also working on some other brand projects and charitable initiatives that would help the people and the communities around Yakutia.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
In today’s world, business is very difficult in any industry. Both running a business and also leading a team are really about balance and understanding the environment around you. We can’t only focus on the business. We need to understand the world and be very sensitive to what’s happening around us, while always being intuitive and kind to each other.
We have to try and learn from each other and sometimes just have fun. Being a good business person is not just about pushing through all the projects and the paperwork. It’s also about understanding the consumer, understanding the world’s dynamics and the entire supply chain that you’re dealing with. It’s also about listening and evaluating, not just pushing through your own agenda. What are the different parts of the supply chain? What are they facing? How can you help? How can you always remain a strategic partner? Stuff like that.
Things are so much more complex than they used to be. It’s not just about doing your job. It’s about understanding your company’s needs and what it’s going to take to make your company successful. This leads to teamwork and really being open, and sharing and learning from one another.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Today, business is global. That means your team is not just your team. Your team is also your extended team. It includes people in different parts of the world. You always have to appreciate other people’s perspectives, because they’re inevitably going to be different at times due to certain cultural norms and ways of doing business.
Have empathy for everyone. No one is necessarily more important than the other in this global scheme we work in. It’s like a puzzle, and we all have to, to some extent, fit together and work together.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When I started out in business I was fortunate enough to work for a very seasoned advertising executive who was responsible for launching the Estee Lauder brands. He was very well known,down-to-earth, extremely funny, very creative, very loving, very warm but tough. He taught me pretty much everything: how to talk to people, how to listen — listening is so important. Many people just talk and they don’t listen. And he also taught me something I’ve never forgotten and use all the time, and though it’s a very simple thought, it’s very impactful: “Lose battles, win wars.”
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I try to help people whenever I can. I am very grateful and fortunate for the opportunities and success I’ve had. It came with hard work and perseverance, but I’ve also been extremely lucky. I try to give back by helping people if they’re looking for a new path, career, references or a mentor.
I participate in the mentorship program for the Women’s Jewelry Association. I sit on the board of directors of many industry associations, where I help with fundraising. The Diamond Empowerment Fund is one my favorite organizations because it’s about giving back to people from around the world and connecting that reality back to consumers. It’s almost a daily activity of mine, as I am head of their Marketing Committee, and am also on their Fundraising and Executive Committees.
My goal is to ensure that consumers today understand all the good that diamonds do around the world. Without mining and diamonds, there wouldn’t be jobs, healthcare, education, much of a livelihood in many communities around the world. And that would be a terrible thing. Currently, there are millions of people who benefit from the mining of diamonds.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1 — If you give, you get back. Things really come around.
2 — You can’t always be right, and it won’t always go your way.
3 — No one is necessarily more important than the other in the global world: we are all a piece of a puzzle.
4 — Leading a team is about balance and understanding the environment around you.
5 — Be adaptable, but be prepared for the right moment to really push your perspective.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Win wars, lose battles.” You can’t always be right, and things won’t always go your way. You have to know when the moment is right to really push your ideas, and you have to also know when it’s time to let something go. Because if you don’t do that, you won’t gain the respect of others. People won’t want to work with you and share their thoughts and perspective on things.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I’d say Tiger Woods. I find him so inspirational. This is a man who completely messed up his life and did so many inappropriate things, but he was able to find his inner strength and pick himself back up physically, mentally and emotionally.
It’s a story of redemption. Life is a rollercoaster filled with ups and downs. Most people who hit bottom don’t ever recover, but he is proof that we can always find the light and figure out how to move forward in a positive direction. I’d love to sit down with him and learn some of his tactics, including how he goes about being so self-disciplined.
Thank you so much for joining us!