Legacy: An Interview with Ruth Batson, American Gem Society CEO

It is a little bittersweet for the jewelry industry that Ruth Batson, the Executive Director and CEO of the American Gem Society and AGS Laboratories, announced that she is retiring in 2017. We’re happy that she has reached a point where she feels it is time to devote herself to her interests outside of her career, but many will miss Ruth and her role in the jewelry industry. Ruth is a shining example of how leadership can still be humble, approachable, and open doors for so many others.
Ruth Batson CEO AGS
Ruth’s involvement with the jewelry industry began in 1993 at AGS. She was previously a finance executive in the Seattle area, and decided to move to Las Vegas, which was booming at the time. Though she intended to continue working in finance for the construction industry, she had the opportunity to join AGS (aren’t we glad Ruth decided to change industries?).

Ruth leaves the Society, as AGS is known, in great financial shape and with a strong and vibrant membership. Along the way, she has served on many boards and committees in the business: Women’s Jewelry Association, Jewelers Vigilance Committee, Jewelers for Children, U.S. Jewelry Council, JCK Show Advisory Board, and Chair of the Ethical Initiatives Committee for the Jewelers of America. Ruth has also received numerous awards in her industry tenure: she won the Excellence in Service award from the Women’s Jewelry Association in 2010, was the Jewelers for Children Facets of Hope honoree in 2012, and in 2014 won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Jewelry Association, among others.

I was thrilled to speak with Ruth about her time in the jewelry business, the importance of mentoring, and her plans after summer of 2017, which involve—literally–riding off into the sunset…

idazzle Interview with Ruth Batson

idazzle: Do you leave feeling satisfied that your entire career in jewelry was at one (admittedly prominent) organization?
Ruth Batson: The AGS is a very service-oriented company: I get an overall view of every component of the industry. I have my finger on the pulse in all areas of the industry: retail, supply, and sustaining members. I’ve also served on boards of other organizations, which gives me a window on a broader spectrum.

By all accounts, AGS and the AGS Gem Laboratories are doing very well, having weathered a number of financial recessions and a changing, sometimes difficult industry climate. Do you have qualms about leaving when everything is running so well?
{Laughs} Do you think Peyton Manning is ok with retiring after the Super Bowl?
Plus, it’s not me. AGS’s success is due to committed board members, incredible staff, and finding the right people to work here. With my financial background in accounting, I focus on finding reserves and long-term financial viability: I want it to continue for long after I leave.

Do you have a mentor in the industry?
Definitely. Anybody who stays in an organization as long as I have and in a leadership role will have mentors along the way.
At AGS, the board chair changes every two years, so I have a new boss—and new mentor–every two years.

One person, in particular, that has supported, pushed and encouraged me along the way, is Herb Bridge of Ben Bridge Jeweler.
Herb was on the board of trustees during the time I was CFO. As a retired admiral, he is fearless and has a great ability to make decisions. He was tough on me. He encouraged me to finish my degree in accounting—while I was working full-time. He has always asked me the tough questions and motivated me to go out of my comfort zone. Herb has been a true role model in my career.

What kind of mentoring have you done in your career?
As CEO, I view mentoring as a job requirement every day. I try to set an example. Though the phrase sounds cliché, I have an open door policy, and strive to nurture and grow every one who works here to their highest potential. I have volunteered on several boards, which is a tremendous opportunity to both learn and mentor. One of my favorite delights is my work with Jewelers for Children, by being the first woman board president. I’m positive there will be many, many more women presidents of JFC and other boards going forward.

What should we be doing to mentor or promote young women who are choosing jewelry as a career?
We should continue to encourage young women to get involved with industry organizations. For example, AGS Young Titleholders is a network for new people getting into the industry to learn from each other and network with leadership at AGS. We need to get together and hear from each other and ask: “what do young jewelry people need from their career to be more successful?”

What do you think you are going to miss the most after retirement in 2017?
I’m going to miss the jewelry; I’ll tell you that! When you walk down the aisles at JCK Las Vegas, you’re surrounded by the most beautiful jewelry and sparkle and creations in the world…
Besides that, I’ll miss the day-to-day operations of AGS. I will miss the people. I will miss the Mission. I work every day to keep the dream of Robert Shipley alive. It’s been a driving force, and I won’t be there to initiate action when I’m retired. I will feel like I’ve been in a race, and all of a sudden, I’m not running anymore.

I can definitely relate to missing the sparkle—and the people!
I know that legacy is a big word, but what bequest do you think you leave behind at AGS and the jewelry business? Do you have a personal Mantra?

Well, I do have a mantra. I am not sure who wrote it, but I use it as a guiding principle while working for AGS:
‘Infinite gratitude for those who came before us.’ You’ve got to be thankful for all the people who served and worked here and the decisions they made to get us here today.
‘Infinite service to the present.’ It’s our time to do our part for the Society.
‘Infinite responsibility to the future.’

A lasting legacy is the team we’ve put together. We have a team that is completely of one mind when it comes to the mission and direction of the organization.

I have all the confidence in the world that we won’t miss a beat going forward.

Thank you so much, Ruth! Though you will definitely be missed at the helm of AGS after 2017, your influence lives on and continues to inspire the next generation in the jewelry business. And I know you will enjoy your next adventure that involves a lifelong dream of horses and a spread in Montana!

Ruth Batson CEO of AGS

This picture says everything you need to know about Ruth’s future!

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