Irene Deutsch is the Managing Director and Co-owner of Australia’s oldest jewellery house, Fairfax & Roberts. After spending 25 years in banking and sales at Macquarie, Goldman Sachs and ANZ, Irene was ready for a new challenge.

Fairfax & Roberts first opened their doors back in 1858 and continue to hand-craft their signature pieces at their Sydney showroom. It’s a business that serves and survives on love and emotion.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Irene to learn how her years of experience working in finance has set her in good steed to run Fairfax & Roberts.

How has your experience at Macquarie set you up for the success of running Fairfax & Roberts?

Despite there not seeming to be an obvious connection between investment banking and jewellery retailing, my experience at Macquarie I believe was vital to my ability to add value as the CEO of Fairfax & Roberts.

Macquarie has a culture of innovation and of allowing its employees the opportunity to run their own businesses, manage their own P&L, try new ideas – all within the confines of a compliance framework. Macquarie really felt like a series of small business being run by capable people, and so moving into a small business did not feel like such a huge leap for me. The majority of my banking career was also spent in Sales & Marketing, servicing ultra-high net worth individuals, so in some cases the same individuals who are customers of Fairfax & Roberts, so I understand them, how they work, how they like to be looked after.

You started at Fairfax & Roberts in March 2020, just weeks before Sydney went into lockdown. How did this impact your original strategy for taking on this new business?

Funnily enough, I don’t think it impacted it as much as one would think! Of course every new leader wants to make their mark, so I would have embarked on a strategy of clearing any ‘older’ stock and refreshing what we had, cutting unnecessary cost, reviewing our customer & marketing strategy…..I guess lockdown just sped this process up a bit!! It also allowed me to renovate the showroom whilst we were shut and some thinking time, so as with all times of adversity, it created opportunity!!

What did Australia’s oldest premium jewellery company learn during 2020?

It (and I) learned that we have a strong, heritage brand, with a loyal customer base. And that people still love to declare their love for each other in a special way, especially during difficult times. Whether it is a marriage proposal, anniversary, birthday – people come to us to have something special made that will last forever and leave an enduring memory of that special moment.

How have the learnings from 2020 changed how F&R as a business engages with clients in a positive way?

Because we deal with people when they are dealing with special, even momentous, times in their life, I think we always engage with them in a positive way and all the staff are always so motivated to see our customers happy. Having said that during lockdown, we go over and above to ensure our customers can still celebrate – we make a special effort to be able to show them pieces digitally, make items on time for them, so nothing gets in their way of showing their love for someone. And everyone pitches in – I become a delivery driver and often have to deliver items to a locked down household without tipping off the fact that I’m delivering a gift. This lockdown, we are sending care hampers to our VIP customers, just to check in that they’re ok.

How have your customers been purchasing since the showroom re-opened?

After we came out of the last lockdown there was a huge rush on engagement rings!! A lot of people decided to propose, which made sense to me. Why put these things off when you really can’t predict where life is going to go? We are also finding that people are feeling like they want to purchase special gifts for their partner, given the state of things and that we can’t travel. The beautiful piece of jewellery is replacing the destination birthday party, for example.

Tell us something about F&R that our client’s might not know about the brand.

We are Australia’s oldest jewellery brand and have therefore been involved in many things. We were once silver smiths and have people coming to us with items they discover in their homes such as silver stirrups, sceptres and all sort of weird and wonderful things!

We also made the clock at Central Station!!

What is your favourite customer story since in last twelve months?

We have the most wonderful repeat customer who has European royal lineage. She has come to us to make her a signet ring with her family crest and has also embarked upon making one for each of her grandchildren as they turn 18. She is a beautiful person to deal with, but also hearing all the stories of her childhood, and being part of all the family memories we are creating feels so special. There have been a few tears in our showroom. It’s times like these that I just love!!

Tell us about what your customers lifetime journey with F&R from starting with designing and buying an engagement ring..

It usually starts with a timid young man walking into the showroom asking for a consultation about an engagement ring. That process can take a while to get the perfect stone, design etc. It culminates in either the couple coming into the showroom for the proposal and ‘big reveal’, or they take the ring and propose and a lot of the time we receive gorgeous photos and messages from the couple about how happy they are – this is our favourite part!

This is followed with wedding bands and thereafter starts the life cycle – ‘pushing’ pressie, wedding anniversaries, birthdays etc. This means we spend a lifetime with some of these people following all their celebrations and so a special relationship forms. We have some families that we look after going back several generations. We often have young people coming to see us for an engagement ring because their parents and grandparents came to us. It really is so amazing to be part of it and so different from working in Banking, let me tell you!!

We have been very fortunate to work with yourself and the F&R team during your first year as Managing Director as a Business Concierge member on key business initiatives.

What has been the benefit of working with Essential Solutions to support the F&R team?

I have had the benefit of working with Essential Solutions on both a professional and personal level and really, your team is everything they promise to be!!

Nothing is too difficult, the knowledge base is infinite and you really do make life easier on every level!!

Having ES work with F&R is like having additional team members, but only when we need them, so when important things need to happen, they do, but with the expense only being incurred when it needs to be. This aspect is so key for small businesses, so I’m sure that there are a lot of businesses out there just like us who thank heaven that you exist!!