In an interview with JCK, De Beers Exec Stephen Lussier gives his exit interview, an account of his life in advertising, and more.
When asked if he always planned to go into advertising, Lussier said, "I attended Boston College and then I went straight to Columbia Business School because I didn’t know what else to do. I finished Columbia on a Friday, and I started work at [ad agency] N.W. Ayer on Monday. I studied psychology at undergrad, and I was always fascinated by it, but I knew I didn’t want to be psychologist. I decided if I merged my interest in people’s motivations—which is what psychology is largely about—with marketing, I got advertising. That’s always impacted my approach because I’ve always been very focused on the consumer motivation aspect and needs and desires. And that’s why the diamond account was a perfect home for me, because if you look at other [product advertising], it’s about a 10% discount coupon on your food purchases.
"It’s strange how life turns on the most random events, because when I joined Ayer, I was a management trainee. And that Monday morning, an executive vice president assigned me to the De Beers account. I think now: What if he assigned me to the Kraft macaroni and cheese account? Life would have been different, beyond recognition. I did other accounts, but I was always fascinated by diamonds. I was fascinated by the global nature of the business. I was really interested in meeting people from all over the world and from different cultures.
"It felt to me like I was doing something important that was meaningful to people. I could never get that excited about some of the accounts I was working on at Ayer, where we’d have three-week-long meetings about what words to say on the packaging."
When asked about his experience of the De Beers culture out in Britain, Lussier said, "De Beers today is unrecognizable compared to when I arrived there. There are some things that make me smile now. You had to have a suit that was blue or gray. You had to keep your jacket on at all times if you were outside of your office.
"It was all very stratified. There were five different luncheon rooms, and your level depended on which one you could have access to. If you went to the executive floor, you had to be escorted by these guys in long black tailcoats, like they have at Buckingham Palace. It was a very traditional English formal environment. I was from New York, and thought, ‘this is very different.’ It just fascinated me.…
"In that era, it was a class-based world in Britain, and they were always trying to work out where you sat in their world. When they used to say, ‘What school did you go to?’ they didn’t mean university, they meant high school. And in America, that didn’t really work. So I could pass in and out of any of those structures. In a way, being American gave me a great freedom."
Information originally sourced from JCK.