Beryl Raff, who was executive vice president and general merchandise manager of fine jewelry at J.C. Penney Co. Inc., has joined Helzberg Diamond Shops Inc., a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., as chairman and chief executive officer.
Raff succeeds Marvin Beasley, who resigned. He had been with the company since 1989, became president and chief operating officer in 2002 and had held his most recent post since November 2004.
Raff joined Penney’s in 2001 as senior vice president and gmm after seven years at Zale Corp., most recently as chairman and ceo of the Dallas-based jewelry chain. She began her career with R.H. Macy & Co. and later headed jewelry merchandising at Macy’s East.
No successor to Raff at Penney’s has been appointed, but a company spokesman said a search will begin shortly.
“She will bring a finely balanced blend of merchandising instinct and analytical sharpness to her new position,” said Warren Buffett, chairman and ceo of Berkshire Hathaway.
Those traits will be put to the test as the jewelry industry has battled falling sales and struggled to coax consumers to spend on high-ticket items. Complicating an already challenging environment, jewelers have had to compete with liquidation sales by bankrupt competitors such as Whitehall Jewelers, Friedman’s and Cresent Jewelers and, more recently, Fortunoff. The Jewelers Board of Trade estimated that 1,140 jewelry businesses closed their doors in 2008 and that bankruptcies rose 18.6 percent in the sector.
Berkshire Hathaway doesn’t disclose the earnings of its individual operations but in its 2008 annual report said that its retailing revenues dropped 8.6 percent last year, to $3.1 billion from $3.4 billion in 2007, as pretax earnings declined 41 percent to $163 million. Fourth-quarter sales and pretax earnings were off 17 and 33 percent, respectively, as “conditions for more retailers throughout the U.S. deteriorated.”
Founded in 1915, Helzberg is based in North Kansas City, Mo. It operates 270 stores and has about 2,000 employees.