Executive Education

Peer Talk Profile: Sam Sandberg

New Yorker Sam Sandberg knows fine jewelry—in fact, he’s an expert. With more than four decades of experience, Sandberg began his career as an entrepreneur, opening a jewelry business that eventually acquired A. Jaffee, one of America's oldest and most prestigious luxury bridal brands, and later joined forces with Firestar Diamond Inc., a global diamond and jewelry manufacturing company.

As Sandberg’s businesses grew over the years, so did his team and responsibilities. Sandberg, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics, currently oversees all product and brand development, including licensing, for A. Jaffe and Firestar group in the US.

Despite all of these accomplishments, Sandberg wanted to sharpen his approach to business.

“I had been operating very intuitively, and I had a good track record,” he says. “But I wanted to get a little more formal and really look at the academic approach to broaden my own perspective, sharpen my skills, and learn best practices in sophisticated industries. I have a bigger team than in the past, and my company is much larger, if I could get structure in product and brand development, I could teach it to my team.”

Sandberg turned to Chicago Booth’s Executive Education programs to get a clear picture of the frameworks that comprise the foundation of his business. In 2012, he took New Product Innovation Development and Implementation Strategies, and followed that up with Driving Profits and Growth Through Strategic Brand Management in 2013.

Taught by Chicago Booth’s world-class faculty, the classes provided Sandberg a context for his intuitive business insights. From the product development program, he learned the importance of product leadership and developing a clear innovation strategy. When he returned to Booth for the strategic brand management program, his main takeaway was the idea of creating brand equity by creating associations, thoughts, and feelings of differentiation.

“I always thought that a brand needed to make a lot of associations,” Sandberg says. “What became clear to me is that there are only three things that a potential consumer will remember about your brand. After these courses, we decided to focus on our heritage, quality, and sophistication at A. Jaffe. Previously our focus had been innovation and breadth of product, but I learned that the innovation has to have continuity in order to create brand equity.”

In addition to refocusing the brand, Sandberg uses the frameworks he picked up to communicate knowledge to his team, which they in turn share with their direct reports.

“There are now processes for everything,” Sandberg says. “While there is still an entrepreneurial quality, it has been much more formalized. When someone is promoted, or a new hire comes in, they can understand what the process is at every stage of development, which is a critical advantage, not in place before. ”