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De Beers Polishes Its Image - CEO Penny Refashions Business Model to Tackle Diamond Giant's Flaws

When Gareth Penny became De Beers Group's chief executive in 2006, the world's biggest diamond producer was mired in some of the worst crises… Rapper Kanye West's "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" in 2005 and the movie "Blood Diamond" in 2006 were triggering a wave of negative publicity about buying "conflict diamonds"... De Beers had already worked with the United Nations, governments, and human-rights groups to introduce the Kimberley Process...but the company was vulnerable to a consumer backlash nonetheless. On its home turf in South Africa, De Beers was criticized for not pushing hard enough for black participation... Today…The company…has a new business model and is trying to polish its image. And Mr. Penny now casts himself as an unofficial ambassador for Africa who can help bring businesses and jobs to the continent... [He says,] "We have also completed a major black-empowerment deal so that 26% of our South African company is in the hands of a black investment vehicle... We are looking for ways in which to create opportunities for other businesses -- emerging businesses -- in Africa."