Buffett’s CEO Pick Took a Six Year Break before Making it to the Top

During the fall of 2004, CEO and president of Borsheims Jewelry, Susan Jacques, bumped into Karen Goracke while watching a soccer game. Up until 1998, Goracke had been one of Borsheims watch buyers. But she chose to leave in order to take better care of her family.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you come back and work part-time?’” recalled Jacques. Fresh out of college, the now 46-year-old Goracke who started her career in the working world in 1998 at Borsheims agreed and accepted the offer. “My youngest was about four,” said Goracke, who is the happy mother of three boys aged 12, 16 and 19.

Within a few months of working at Borsheims as a part-time employee, she began working there full-time and worked closely with her mentor, Susan Jacques.

Goracke has now been chosen to be the chief executive officer and president of the jewelry retailer owned by Berkshire Hathaway. She was chosen to take over on December 31 by none other than Warren Buffett himself.

Goracke and Jacques met with Buffett on Saturday. He is the current president and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, and they discussed the transitional changes in leadership.

Jacques has been with Borsheims for 31 years. 20 of those years were as chief executive officer and president. She is moving on to Carlsbad, California to head up the nonprofit organization Gemological Institute of America. The organization offers education about oversees industry standards and gem and jewelry education as well.

Jacques and Goracke met Saturday with Buffett, chairman and president of Berkshire, to discuss the changing of the guard.

Goracke said: “I am honored and humbled to be named president and CEO of one of America’s largest independent jewelers, especially during this exciting time with the Borsheims Boutique at Nebraska Crossing Outlets opening soon.”

This is a return to Jacques roots in education. She grew up in Rhodesia, but came to the United States of America in 1980 where she studied at the Gemological Institute. She is been a board member of the Institute since 1996, and has held the position of chairman since 2008. The former president stepped down last June, and she was asked to take over the role of interim president at that time.

“It’s a family decision,” Jacques said. Her husband, Gene Dunn, bought Gorat’s Steak House in the fall of 2012 from the Gorat family. She is going to make the trek and relocate next June. Her husband will continue to operate the family restaurant.

Jacques will stay with Borsheims until the end of 2013, but continue in her role as the acting president of the Gemological Institute.

Goracke and Jacques will work closely together over the next few months as the transition takes place.

“We wanted to have a transition. With the new store opening,” said Adrienne Fay, a Borsheims spokeswoman. She is referring to Borsheims Boutique, which is scheduled to open on November 15 at Nebraska Crossing Outlets in Gretna. It will be the first and only outlet store of its kind.

“This is also a chance for Susan to bid farewell to everyone,” said Fay. “She really is retiring from retail.”

As an Omaha native, Goracke earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She also started her career in 1998 as a saleswoman at Borsheims. She initially began working in the gifts department, but was quickly promoted in 1998 to inventory supervisor. She took over the position when the company was purchased by Berkshire Hathaway, and along the way she developed a “controlled inventory system.”

“When I got here, we were taking inventory with a 10 key (calculator),” said Goracke, who during her college years worked at an accounting firm.

After leaving the company to raise her children for six years, she came back in 2004 as a jewelry buyer for ladies. Both Goracke and Jacques highly praise the company culture that emphasizes “family first,” which is the kind of culture that has allowed women to take a break from the company only to return.

“Susan has set that example,” said Goracke. “I work better if I have that balance. If my family is happy, I’m happy. When I’m here, I give 120%. I love my job. I love a challenge.”

Borsheims – where 85% of the employees are women – affords the family and work balance, Goracke said. “It’s as close as you can get,” she said, and her schedule allows her to pick up her 12 year old son each Tuesday from soccer practice.

“Karen’s expertise and experience will help in guiding the company to new heights,” said Jacques.

“She has done an exceptional job of keeping the stores properly inventoried and making sure all the brands are getting represented in our store.… This business is based on relationships.”

In 1994, Warren Buffett named Susan Jacques CEO and president of Borsheims. Out of all of the 80+ Berkshire Hathaway companies, she is only one of a select few female presidents.

Buffett said this is a very exciting time for Jacques and Borsheims.

“I couldn’t be happier or more proud of Susan,” said Buffett. “While it is with sadness that I accept Susan’s resignation after her long and stellar career at Borsheims, I know that she is accepting the role at GIA that she is passionate about and allows her to give back to the jewelry industry.”

The history of Borsheims dates all the way back to the earliest days of retailing in Omaha, when the store was originally opened in 1870 by Louis Borsheim. For a brief period of time, he also owned and operated a store in Council Bluffs. It specialized in watches that were designed to help the conductors of the Union Pacific keep “railroad time.”