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 Gerald Online, 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.”
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.”