Of course one can bring home cheese or tulips from Amsterdam… But how about diamonds? Perhaps not as famous as Van Gogh’s sunflowers, but surely as memorable when exploring Amsterdam is a visit of Gassan Diamonds’ ancient diamond factory, located five minutes walking from Waterlooplein. With 400.000 visitors per year, this worldwide acclaimed enterprise of diamond cutters and traders is one of Amsterdam’s biggest tourist destinations. But an interview with Gassan Diamond’s CEO reveals that it is above all a family business, with at its heart a loud, hard-working and charismatic little clan of Amsterdammers. Seated in his office, Benno Leeser talks about Samuel Gassan, founder of Gassan Diamonds and his very own grandfather.

Gassan Diamonds is founded by your grandfather in 1945, after he came back from Switzerland where he had fled the war, with diamonds in his shoes. Did you know him well?

Very well. We worked together from 1973 till 1983. A real entrepreneur, adventurous, not afraid to think big. He was a real salesman, and he got particularly happy when he made a wrong order that he still had to sell. That’s when things got interesting to him. He also believed in maintaining a certain appearance. He cared for his looks, stayed in the right hotels to meet the right people and only flew first class for the same reason. And, of course, he drove a Rolls. This attention for style is something I learned from him.

Are you like him?

I think we are very different. He wasn’t very much into day to day retailing. He might check the numbers once in a while and then observe to us, almost surprised, that our calculations seemed about right. Also, I consider myself more of a teamplayer. He was more of a traditional boss. You see, it was a different time, and my grandfather was an aristocrat. He liked his staff to drop by at the end of each day to tell him goodnight. I don’t even want to think of that happening now. Such hassle. But you will understand; he wasn’t exactly the type of man to work well with a works council.

You started working in the family business straight after school. What was that like?

I loved working, from the very beginning. I had also considered working in fashion, like my father did. But I didn’t’ want to have anything to do with his second wife and since my grandfather had no successor, he asked me. I told him I wanted to be able to quit after a year if I didn’t like it, but that was 44 years ago.

And you worked well together?

I was 18 years old when I started. I only had to add one and one together for him to think I was a genius, but we had more differences in our last years of working together. How shall I put it… (Ironically – red.) Our ideas did not synchronize anymore. I, at a certain point, needed to make my own mark on things. At the end, out of every ten calls only one would be for him, and that would be his wife – that’s tough.

What is the most important thing you learned from him?

Discipline, definitely. It’s a character trait that I am proud of. If I enter the building at 9.15 am, I still feel like I need to explain to reception why I am so late.

What kind of boy were you?

I wasn’t into studying – I still don’t really believe in studying. At school, things picked up a bit when I was allowed to drop courses. I took geography, economics, book keeping. Football played a huge part in my life, already then (Leeser is a big Feyenoord fan. Red.). I had a group of friends, and became more family minded as I grew older.

Have you changed a lot since you were that boy?

I wasn’t into studying – I still don’t really believe in studying. At school, things picked up a bit when I was allowed to drop courses. I took geography, economics, book keeping. Football played a huge part in my life, already then (Leeser is a big Feyenoord fan. Red.). I had a group of friends, and became more family minded as I grew older.

Have you ever considered a different career?

I’ve thought of buying a sports shop in the Beethovenstraat, so I would not have to travel so much anymore. I hate to travel, but travelling with Kitty has made things a 180 degrees better. She’s a lot more sociable than I am.

You have three children (one daughter Debora and two stepsons, Dennis and David – and no, their names don’t all begin with a D for diamond. Red. ), two of whom will take over the company, and you have six grandchildren. What kind of grandfather are you?

… I just try to be a good one. To show real interest, I think that is vital. And to let them do the things they want. One of my granddaughters plays hockey. Football would have been more fun… (Leeser smiles. Red.) But she may do as she pleases.

What do you want them to remember of you?

Warmth and real interest. No, I don’t try to teach them discipline. There is a saying: we teach children how to talk, and then they teach us how to be silent. Grandparents should not meddle with the upbringing of their grandchildren.

Does it matter to you to imagine that one day they will be part of the company too?

I believe that they should do whatever makes them happy. The will to join should be their own, it’s not the sort of thing you can impose.

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