Mark Hanna (MBA ‘72) Shares His Perspective on Blockchain from the Jewelry Industry

Mark Hanna
NYU Stern Program: MBA
Company: Richline Group, a Berkshire Hathaway Company
Industry: Precious Metals

Mark Hanna (MBA ‘72), CMO of Richline Group, a Berkshire Hathaway Company, joined the Center for Sustainable Business for a panel on Building Resilient Supply Chains with Blockchain to discuss the impact the technology can have from his perspective in the precious metals and jewelry industry. He shares his path from an engineering role to the jewelry business, his experience with the evolution of blockchain, and advice for fellow Stern alums.

Tell us about your role as CMO of Richline Group and your career path leading up to this position.

My first job was as a reliability engineer with Bendix Aeronautics working on the flight guidance system for NASA projects. My first on-the-job learning was that I preferred the presentation to the engineering, so I went to Stern to major in marketing. I started in the jewelry industry in 1972 to follow that path for two of the world’s most prestigious retailers. Over the past five decades, I have held numerous top management positions, including CEO, at five different firms. In 2004, I joined the eventual predecessor to Berkshire Hathaway’s Richline Group as Chief Marketing Officer and have continued in the position through many added acquisitions and lucrative growth.

What are some of the key things you’ve learned about the potential impact of and use cases for blockchain, both in your industry and more broadly?

The importance of a supply chain with a documented and ethical chain of custody management strategy started for me in 2005. My job as the CMO, the keeper of corporate reputation, became the pursuit of a “Return on Responsibility” model that both held our firm to clear, ethical standards and communicated our trustworthy journey toward corporate responsibility. We initiated our first documented chain in 2005 utilizing a then-advanced technology known as “String”. A decade later, blockchain is the vastly improved version with the major addition of, not only our input, but the verified input of every node in the supply chain. Our TrustChain™ program/platform utilized the rapid advancement of blockchain technology, paired with a collaboration among responsible and ethical organizations across the jewelry industry for the potential of full supply chain transparency. 

TrustChain™ was the first major collaboration of its kind within the global jewelry industry, providing full supply chain transparency from the mine, to the refinery, to the manufacturer and, ultimately, the retail store, thereby instilling trust within consumers on everything from origin to ethical stance. What I learned from this is that the possible is not always achievable across a global, culturally-diverse, varying size of business supply chain. This continues to be a challenge today, from input systems to communication realities to the incentives and willingness to participate. 

What should everyone understand about blockchain, even if this technology isn’t directly part of their jobs at this point?

Blockchain will find many amazing uses across a majority of businesses, from music royalties, to real estate, to banking, to consumer products. The recent hype may be overstated in the short-term, but the benefits of use are far underestimated for the long-term.

What career advice would you offer to fellow Stern alumni?

My favorite quote is Gretzky’s “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Be open to opportunities, read everything you can relevant to your passions, utilize this new world of “alerts” on topics known and unfamiliar. Keep learning and mentor others.

What’s your favorite Stern memory?

The Management Game in 1971…an amazing learning experience with more influence than any other on my career. Six of us got together, introduced ourselves, decided what job we could best perform to help our team, and went on to compete armed with real world experience with unions (NYU Law), banks (many on Wall Street) and markets (detergent industry).

How do you stay connected to Stern? 

Every bit of web content that I can find plus, recently, a direct-connect due to shared interests and directions on responsible, sustainable sourcing.

Do you have any book/podcast recommendations you’d like to share?

Books: (so many to choose from) “Extreme Trust”, Peppers & Rogers; “Predictably Irrational”, Dan Ariely; “Treasures of the Earth”, Saleem Ali; “Congo Stories”, Pendergast & Bafilemba.
Podcast: Selfishly, my own episode on The Plumb Club podcast on Responsible Practices as Corporate Strategy.