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Cambridge East of England

An evening with Gerald Ratner

16 Oct 2018
IoD East of England

An evening with Gerald Ratner

On the 12th October under the star studded sky at Madingley Hall in Cambridge, our guests joined us for dinner with the famous Gerald Ratner. Gerald is known by many for his speech delivered at a conference held by Institute of Directors at the Royal Albert Hall on 23 April 1991. Gerald is still known for his comments during this speech namely that one of the sets of earrings was "cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn't last as long."

After a wonderful three course meal, our guest settled in to hear from a man who saw the value of his company plummet by £500 million, who hired a chairman with a view to stabilising the group only to find himself fired by the new company leader and the group turning its back on him and with the final strike which saw the original Ratner group change its name to Signet Group.

Gerald told his story with his usual dry wit but mixed with a touch of sadness that the company he had built and grown had turned away from him by remarks that were not meant to be taken seriously.

Even now Gerald's remarks still make it onto the top ten business errors in the media and what is now known as “doing a Ratner” has crossed over into politics and even sport. Gerald talked about his time after the Ratner group, the effect the loss of his company had upon him and how he picked himself up and started again with little more than a belief that he could start again. Gerald's strength and desire to succeed in business was evident but he didn't shy away from speaking about the low points of that time. The numerous rejections including a company who wrote and asked Gerald not to mention to anyone he'd even applied for a job with them. Silence filled the room for the man who seemed at his lowest ebb at that point in his career. Gerald spoke candidly about his days where he would stay in his pyjamas all day, unable to face the mounting pile of rejection letters that came through his door. With building debt and a reputation that proceeded him many people would have given up having faced such criticism but not Gerald.

The next chapter for Gerald looked uncertain. With the bank asking how he planned to repay his huge debt, Gerald made a plan. Finding that exercise drew him out of the house at his lowest time and cleared his mind Gerald noticed a gap in the market. Visiting a huge warehouse space in Henley-on-Thamas, Gerald decided fitness was the way forward and went to the landlord to rent the space he'd seen. With no money behind him Gerald was asked how he planned to pay the rent and Gerald gave his stock response “the bank”. Unsurprisingly Gerald was not met by the enthusiasm he felt from the banks until he struck upon an idea. Placing an advert in the local paper inviting people to join this new health club and offering deals Gerald found himself with hundreds of members and again approached the local banks. With no premises still but the promise of clients Gerald struck lucky with one bank, where the manager joked he had to lend him the money as his wife had signed up as a member. Gerald later sold this club for £3.9 million.

Then Gerald took the ultimate gamble, and went back into the jewellery business. Not without its trials and tribulations he now runs Gerald online. Gerald shared with us his rise, his fall and his rise again. With humour and honesty Gerald shared with us his story of resilience and how his seemingly harmless, humorous remarks took away a business he had spent years building and changed his life.

At this event, IoD Cambridgeshire was proud to raise money for Magpas Air Ambulance. A charity which brings essential lifesaving care by land and air to patients in life-threatening emergencies in the East of England and beyond. Some of the UK’s expert doctors and paramedics volunteer their own time to work with them. Magpas Air Ambulance is not a state-funded service and relies on generous public donations to continue saving lives. Since 1971 they’ve treated over 60,000 patients.

We were truly humbled hearing the story of Phil Hayes, whose car was involved in a serious car accident and who feared he would never walk again. He attributes his survival to Magpas and to the calm presence of the doctors on scene at the time.

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