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Yurman Pushes Transparency, Results

No-nonsense bons mots are legendary in the technology and operations halls at David Yurman, the luxury jewelry brand.

“It’s called your job. Try doing it.” That rejoinder and other no-nonsense bons mots are legendary in the technology and operations halls at David Yurman, the luxury jewelry brand.

David Minster, chief information officer and senior vice president of operations, described the culture of accountability he’s been building at the company since his arrival in 2001. His strategy, called “corporate triage,” drives performance and results despite obstacles and limited resources. Minster likened the approach to triage carried out by battlefield surgeons on the TV series “M*A*S*H.”

However, he acknowledged, “We make jewelry, OK. We are not saving lives here. There is no reason to have people screaming at each other.” His brand of management carried David Yurman through several major projects, including installation of multimillion-dollar enterprise resource planning software from QAD of Carpinteria, Calif. — which delivered a 12-month return on investment — and an operations overhaul that eliminated an entire layer of management.

The culture has been good for morale: “A couple of years ago, turnover within operations and IT was 28 percent,” he said. “Today, it is 7 percent.”

Minster said sometimes people are afraid to do their jobs because they may fail. “We say, ‘You know what? Try it. See what happens and mess up a little bit.'” Controls are in place to recover from missteps, he said. A sense of urgency, lots of communication, transparency and clearly stated priorities help keep people focused. “You should be able to walk through the business and ask anyone what are key objectives and they should be able to parrot them back to you,” he said, adding that this culture motivates people to succeed.

“You have to own accountability,” Minster said. “Whether you win or lose, you own it. But when it is time to take credit, you have to give it away to your people. Let them be the heroes in the light of senior management and your board. You have to lead by serving.”

Yurman developed its own vocabulary to improve communications and help navigate through crises, Minster said. For example, an IT worker panicked about a problem need only utter the password “meltdown” to get immediate access to Minster, behind closed doors, to vent and resolve an issue.

Minster has a checklist of “warning signs” for cio’s: reliance on aging systems, reporting to the chief financial officer (rather than the chief executive officer), lack of business alignment, too much energy spent on governance, lack of access to product suppliers and a bloated IT department. The $500 million David Yurman has 10 people in its IT department and Minster said a comparable-size company he used as a benchmark has 70.

“How’s that possible?” he asked. “See Point No. 1. They have got programmers coming out the wazoo” because aging technology systems require a large staff to maintain them.