Controversial entrepreneur Gerald Ratner told the south’s business leaders that they must learn from their mistakes in order to become a success.
The colourful businessman recounted the story of his rise, spectacular fall from grace and subsequent re-emergence as an online success to an appreciative audience.
He was keynote speaker at the Solent Business Growth Summit 2016, staged at the Ageas Bowl’s Hilton Hotel, near Southampton.
It was the third annual event, backed by four of the south central region’s big firms, designed to promote business growth in the region.
Hosts for the event were four companies with a strong operational presence in the city region – law firm Trethowans, commercial property consultancy Hughes Ellard, Santander Corporate and Commercial Bank and accountancy, investment management and tax group Smith & Williamson.
Self-deprecating Gerald’s humorous speech began with a film of his infamous 1991 speech to the Institute of Directors where he described a Ratners decanter as ‘crap’ and said a prawn sandwich would last longer than a £1 pair of earrings.
He said: “It was a daft thing to say but the effect it had was ridiculous – here we are 25 years later still talking about ‘doing a Ratner’.”
His comments wiped £500m off the value of his company which had cornered 50 per cent of the UK jewellery market by the late 1980s – and led to him subsequently being fired by the new chairman he had hired to sort out the mess.
He then ‘wallowed in his grief’ for seven years before managing to fund the purchase of a health club in 1997 which he sold for £3.9m less than three years later.
That put him back on the road and a link-up with an Indian jewellery manufacturer saw him launch GeraldOnline, now Britain’s largest online jeweller with sales totalling £25m.
He told his appreciative audience: “My tale just goes to show that you cannot predict the future and if something can go wrong, it generally will. It is how you deal with failure that counts – you can always turn it round.
“You have to go through experiences and you sometimes don’t appreciate success until it is taken away from you.
“No one is going to sail through life or business without a disaster – but if you do lose everything it is good to get it back.
“However, business won’t fall into your lap. It takes hard graft and is all about the silly little, boring details that many people turn their noses up at. Know your field and be prepared for a long, hard slog.
Second speaker was entrepreneur Andy Lennox, who told attendees of his award-winning Koh Thai Tapas restaurant empire’s incredible rise to prominence from a single outlet in Boscombe, Bournemouth in 2009.
It has rapidly grown to 12 outlets, is set to reach 40 in the next five years and the company even runs its own head office and academy in Bournemouth to train staff and management
It’s a long way from Koh’s launch at the height of the recession, during a property slump.
He said: “We felt we had this brilliant concept – providing an informal eating venue combining food, atmosphere and service – and we were passionate and determined it should succeed.”
Andy, who won both the 2015 ‘Entrepreneur of the Year award’, 2015 Best Employer in Hospitality and the 2016 ‘World Cuisine Award’ at the Dorset Tourism Awards, said the key to success was planning, investment and hard graft.
“Forward planning – understanding where your future should be – is incredibly important. We had a brand vision, but have learned everything on the way. We might have done things differently if we were starting out today.
“You also must have a complete focus on every detail, be able to turn your hand to anything and understand every area – then step away from micro-managing and start delegating when the opportunity to go to the next level arises.
“The biggest challenge is managing growth – and listening to advice from the experts such as accountants, bank managers and solicitors. Setting yourself up correctly is 100 per cent the most important thing.”
Hughes Ellard Managing Director Gary Jeffries said: “It has been a fantastic, uplifting occasion listening to Gerald Ratner, who has come back to prominence in the face of the most extreme adversity.
“His story could not possibly have been anything other than hugely inspiring to the many businesspeople who gathered for this breakfast time event and I hope they went away with renewed vigour and a will to succeed.
“I have huge enthusiasm for encouraging business growth in this region as success undoubtedly breeds success and a general uplift will benefit everyone striving to do their best in this area, often in the face of stiff external competition.”
Trethowans Senior Partner and Head of Employment Simon Rhodes said: “It was phenomenal. There was a superb turnout of local business leaders to hear a regional success story and a national riches to rags to riches story.”
“This has been the third year where we have tried to inspire and encourage growth in the Solent region. The numbers for this event are increasing as growth is increasing. The idea for the event came four years ago when we were in a period of economic difficulty and I wanted to bring together these four organisations to help encourage growth within the Solent. This year’s Summit was another very positive and inspirational event.”
Santander Corporate and Commercial Bank South East and Solent Regional Director Gwyn Price said: “It was a very successful event with excellent and relevant speakers for the business community.
“To hear the experiences of someone who has gone through so many emotions, both lows and highs, is a great thing to see.
“Andy has great passion to make his business grow and become successful for the future – and hopefully the business community at large will support it as well as the professional community in giving him advice.
“The message everyone can take away is how he has put his lifeblood into making the business a success.”
Smith & Williamson Southampton office Managing Partner Andrew Edmonds said: “I thought it was a fantastic occasion. It is heartening to see the region’s business leaders gathering together and it always reminds me what a brilliant area Solent is in which to live and work.
“You always learn more from someone who has failed and then succeeded – I don’t think straight line trajectory exists in business – it adds an extra layer of inspiration when you hear it from someone like Gerald, who is a true entrepreneur.
“Everyone really enjoyed it and was really engaged. It was absorbing to see his speech from 1991on the big screen before he spoke and you can see why it took him seven years to recover.”
Note to editors
Property management company
The Malthouse, Cams Hall, Fareham PO16 8UT
Santander Corporate & Commercial Bank
3rd Floor, 1 Dorset Street, Southampton SO15 2DP 023 8083 1995
Smith & Williamson
Investment, accountancy and tax services
Southampton Office: Cumberland House, 15-17 Cumberland Place, Southampton Hampshire, SO15 2BG
023 8082 7600
Southampton Office: The Pavilion, Botleigh Grange Business Park, Hedge End, Southampton, SO30 2AF
023 8032 1000
News release issued by:
Cliff Moore, Account Director
Deep South Media
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