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01 october 2018

ashok_minawala_xx.jpgA veteran businessman, former Chairman of Gem & Jewellery Council (GJC), Bullion Expert, a third-generation jeweller born with a silver spoon (or was it gold?) in his mouth, a perpetual optimist … yes, the list could go on.

As the first Chairman of GJC, Ashok Minawala was instrumental in tackling issues that cropped up with the government on policy matters, which eventually helped the otherwise unorganized domestic jewellery sector in India.

Here, Ashok takes you down memory lane, from his teenage days to the present. Today, the 4th generation has taken up the reigns and Ashok reminisces his earlier days in the jewellery business with immense satisfaction.

Please tell us your story… your family business. And when and how did you join the jewellery business? Can you recall any experiences that have made a mark, and remained in your heart until today?

I joined the family business in 1974 when I was still in college. I was required to spend my half day in the shop to assist the salespersons and deal with customers and learn the different facets of the business. One lesson that my grandfather taught me was ‘never disappoint a customer’. Also, I was fortunate to have 3 elders overseeing my performance, which helped substantially.

My most memorable memory was when grandfather was shocked to know that I could not read or write Gujarati. He appointed a CA who taught me Guju-style accounting without using calculators. That helps me even today.

Being a third generation jeweller, what changes have you noticed in the Indian jewellery sector over the years? Right from the way of doing business by the jewellers, to demand by customers in terms of quality, design, etc., in gold, and gemstone studded jewellery?

As 3rd generation jeweller, I had observed the Gold control regime and business practices of those days, which sent shivers down my spine. Sitting in the Zaveri Bazaar market was an experience of its own. My grandfather said ‘ we jewellers today but you must learn to become a Johari one day’. I did not understand the difference then, but over the years realised the big difference. Our gem & jewellery sector majorly faces this distinction today as we see price wars looming when the potentials are too many to overcome.

The Indian jewellery sector sees you as one of the pioneers to be in the forefront to form GJC (then All India Gems & Jewellery Trade Federation, GJF) and bring a semblance of order to an unorganized sector. What were the initiatives that were first put to work? How did the sector accept and fall in line? Please elaborate.

I was not the creator of GJC but it was the circumstance when GJEPC was not allowed to address the excise issues in 2005 and we were compelled to form a national body as there was no one in India who had the scale to reach the government in Delhi. The founders of GJC were very strong, selfless and ethical team of guys and had set very strong principles of an ethical working ex that built a very strong foundation for GJC. We had a national format from day one as we had achieved success in rolling back excise with just 30 members on board GJC. No one was wanting credit and gave their full commitment to GJC.

During your tenure as Chairman and even later, under your guidance, the GJC team has initiated various projects as well-made representations to the central government to find solutions for the jewellery industry. For the benefit of our readers, can you walk us through these initiatives?

Again, we did not know what we were doing, but in 2006 we realized to build awareness and funds for GJC we must do a national retail promotion called ‘Lucky Lakshmi‘. This was the game changer for GJC as it brought great awareness for GJC. As a matter of fact, GJEPC Chairman Sanjay Kothari approached me and asked how could we reach 25000 jewellers in the country when we were unknown. He also asked if we could help build IIJS as it was stuck with 10000+ visitors only. Our ideas changed the course of IIJS as registrations doubled next year in 2007.

The issues around Central Excise Duties, Hallmarking, Pan Card and others are a bane to the jewellery industry. Do you think the Indian government has looked into the issues and eased any of the problems that hassled the jewellers? What issues should the government focus on how to eradicate or rectify, on a priority basis?

Over the few years of dealing with the government, we realized that we must work together with the government to achieve desired goals for the industry. We did not have government recognition as GJC but we were consulted on all domestic matters. Excuse, Hallmarking and GST are part of nation and industry building platforms and we must take them in the right spirit to get right results. We must make sure in all our endeavours that the country and industry must both be winners.

Over the years GJC has organised seminars, webinars, helpdesks etc to educate the jewellers to help jewellers become compliant and organised as well as the recent GST connected issues. Do you think the industry members are now utilising the knowledge imparted to them in their business? If yes, what changes do you see in the current businesses being conducted by the industry members?

If you will see the history of this industry of pre-GJC and post GJC you will see the sea of change. The domestic industry was dormant and belonged to a few individuals. No one got up to unite and restructure the industry. GJC made sure that knowledge came before money and people before self. The activities done by GJC in the past 13 to 14 years had never been done in the past 60 to 70 years by any organisation for the gem & jewellery sector. Once the knowledge became a source, everything started to fall in place starting from Hallmarking that helped build it the most. GJC got jewellers registered under VAT and requested them to file IT returns. GJC showed that it was cheaper to pay taxes than hide them. Today, the unorganised sector is growing for this simple reason that people with small business have changed their fortunes by complying and following good business practices.

Do you see the industry getting over the present hurdles and returning to a healthy industry, going forward? What is your opinion on the current situation in the gem and jewellery industry in the country? Demand for jewellery per se has been reported to be dismal, even during the festival season. Your take?

A few rotten apples cannot spoil the entire production. We never talk of the huge number of jewellers who have been consistently following and paying high taxes and setting high benchmarks always.

Demand can never be constant. We are facing challenging times today. Before we get out of one crisis we are into another. The last five years have been challenging to many. But business still goes on for those who see light at the end of the tunnel and are innovative in their approach and see new horizons.

India still continues to live across our rural markets and it will take time to change this. So our rains and agriculture still decide the rate of GDP more than anything.

The PNB scam has left the end consumers of jewellery in a confused state of mind. Media reports of synthetics and CZs used in place of diamonds have shaken the very core of the consumers’ confidence. What steps do you suggest to bring back consumer confidence to the badly scarred jewellery sector in the country?

The banking scam has left all shocked and amazed at the smoothness at which the scam was being done by a handful. This will also become memories soon. We will need to become more ethical and transparent and the government will also look through a magnifying glass.

Consumers have short memories. A good Diwali will change all. GJC is launching the largest retail promotion ‘Lucky Lakshmi 2018’ once again during festival time with over 60-70 crores in prizes and similar media spends. With the support of the jewellery sector, we should see the change starting soon in a positive front.

Aruna Gaitonde, Editor in Chief of the Asian Bureau, Rough & Polished