Tiffany’s Diamond-Bright Legacy

Tiffany & Co. is known for exceptional luxury products, but general counsel Leigh Harlan sees its commitment to social responsibility and sustainability as its greatest strength

Leigh Harlan was thriving in the variety, speed, and rigor of the work at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, the firm she joined out of law school. She was in her seventh year there and was up for partner in just a few months. So, when she got a call about an in-house opportunity, Harlan was certain she wasn’t interested. Well, almost certain.

The call was regarding an associate general counsel position at Tiffany & Co., the iconic luxury brand and jewelry company, and after that talk, Harlan began to research. She discovered the company’s impressive commitment to corporate social responsibility and learned about its expansive global operations and that approximately 60 percent of the merchandise the company sold was manufactured in-house. “It didn’t seem like your typical global public company,” she says. “I was intrigued.”

She was intrigued enough, in fact, to talk with the then-general counsel, though she believed that she would almost certainly turn down the job if it was offered.

The general counsel not only reinforced everything that Harlan had discovered, but also explained that Tiffany’s was a living legacy, a 178-year-old American institution, and a timeless trendsetter. She learned that Tiffany’s was instrumental in setting the United States’ silver standard and responsible for designing the Grand Seal of the United States that remains on the back of the dollar bill today, as well as introducing, in 1886, the engagement ring as it is known today—with the diamond lifted above its band.

Harlan was invited to interview with other executives and soon realized that her goal was no longer to make partner at the law firm, but to lead the fascinating legal world of Tiffany & Co.

Harlan came on board in April 2012 and, two years later, was named general counsel. These days, she manages a team of eight in-house lawyers, as well as a crew of outside counsel who work together to ensure all Tiffany’s business is conducted at the highest level. Many legal tasks are related to manufacturing and retail matters, finance and strategic transactions, governance, and protecting Tiffany’s designs and intellectual property. Others concentrate on the company’s commitment to ethical diamond sourcing and to advocating for environmental protection and human rights.

“We invest in job training and hiring local workers, and we engage experts to determine what constitutes a living wage in our overseas manufacturing locations,” she says. “That research informs what we pay our employees and so we can ensure they are fairly compensated at or above the local minimum wage.”

Harlan’s team is responsible for legal issues related to a broad range of business functions, yet the company’s commitment to ethics and corporate social responsibility informs their work in all of these areas. “My team has a role to play in our operations, from the design and sourcing stage to the retail experience,” Harlan says. “We touch each part of our operations.”

As a member of the executive team, Harlan’s critical thinking and sharp analysis make her not only a skilled lawyer, but a valued business partner as well. She contributes to strategic thinking and planning and helps set and clarify goals and determine how to achieve them.“Partnership with the business is the key,” she says. “To be effective, my team and I must maintain a comprehensive understanding of Tiffany’s industry, strategy, objectives, and operations, across all regions and functional areas, while also staying current on applicable laws and regulations.”

It’s a big job, but Harlan is honored to be part of an organization that is using its influence to do good in the world. For example, Tiffany was a founding member of the Initiative for Responsible Mining
Assurance (IRMA) in 2006, an effort to develop standards to protect human rights and minimize environmental harm in the mining sector. And, in 2014, Harlan negotiated documentation for a LEED-certified polishing operation in Cambodia, one of the country’s first LEED-certified buildings. “We recognize that our operations impact the earth, but we seek to reduce that impact and protect our precious natural environment,” she says.

Furthermore, Tiffany has a zero-tolerance policy on conflict diamonds. While Tiffany only buys diamonds from countries that are participants in the Kimberley Process (KP), a joint government, industry, and civil society initiative designed to reduce the availability of conflict diamonds, Tiffany’s standards go beyond that process. The company actually sources 100 percent of its rough diamonds either directly from a known mine or a supplier with multiple known mines to better ensure traceability.

“While the KP has been successful in stemming the flow of conflict diamonds, it only covers rough diamonds, and it has not adequately addressed human rights, as well as environmental and labor issues in the global diamond supply chain,” she says.

So, Tiffany has implemented its own diamond source warranty protocol that requires polished stone providers to certify their diamond sources, and it has elected not to source from countries that are KP participants, but whose human rights practices do not meet Tiffany’s standards. Further, all polished diamond suppliers are subject to Tiffany’s Social Accountability Program, through which suppliers agree to Tiffany’s Vendor Code of Conduct and are subject to regular compliance audits.

After a rough diamond has been cut and polished at one of the company’s state of the art facilities in Botswana, Belgium, Cambodia, Mauritius, or Vietnam, it is sent to New York. At this point, the stone is re-graded and inspected, with each diamond being looked at about 1,300 times before it finally makes its way to a store. The name Tiffany has become tied with quality and craftsmanship, so in addition to the classic standard of the four Cs (cut, carat weight, color, and clarity), Tiffany’s diamonds are graded on a fifth component: “presence,” which impacts the diamond’s brilliance, sparkle, and ability to disperse light. “The value proposition of a Tiffany diamond is clear,” Harlan explains. “It is truly unlike any other stone.”

At every step along the way—from sourcing precious stones and raw precious metals to transporting, cutting, polishing, designing, manufacturing, and selling—care and quality are at the center of everything that Tiffany does. “We believe in higher standards across the board, which is why we have spoken out about critical issues in the global diamond supply chain,” Harlan explains. “But our commitment to acting responsibly and with integrity goes beyond what’s best for our product or even what resonates most directly with our customers; it’s just the right thing to do.”

As an American corporation, Tiffany also does what’s right by their employees at home, Harlan continues. Exactly one year after becoming general counsel, Harlan became a mother. “It was the first time an executive at Tiffany had taken maternity leave,” she says. “When I announced my pregnancy to the executive team, I was prepared to outline my coverage plan, but they were so excited for me that I couldn’t even get it out.”

That experience was one of many that has solidified Tiffany’s as more than a job for Harlan, and why she has never doubted her decision to join the company. “I love my company, and I love that it’s my company,” she says. “I get to be an insider at this amazing institution. I work with great people who I respect, and I believe tremendously in both our legacy and our strategy for the future.”

That future and the good it will add to the world is what Harlan believes is the brightest aspect about Tiffany, and in her in-house role as general counsel, Harlan herself is shining brighter than ever before.