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11 October 2013 | Will Green
Gerald Ratner, who spectacularly fell from grace for describing his firm’s products as “total crap”, told purchasers you can always bounce back from business failure.
Ratner, closing speaker at the CIPS Annual Conference in London yesterday, said he was rejected countless times by banks as he sought to start a new enterprise following his gaffe, but he still managed to build a successful online jewellery business.
He said: “My wife said to me: ‘What will you do when you say something stupid again and we lose everything? I said: ‘I’ll just start all over again.’”
Ratner told delegates his infamous speech 22 years ago had wiped £500 million off the value of his business and ultimately left him owing the banks £1 billion.
He said he became a “tabloid punch bag” and was in a position of “zugzwang”, a chess term meaning “no move is possible where I can succeed”.
“Whatever I did, wherever I turned, I could not succeed,” he said.
Eventually he was fired from the company and after seven years doing nothing, he started a health club in Henley on the back of an advert in the local paper that generated 850 members before he had even obtained funding to buy a building. He sold the club two-and-a-half years later for £3.9 million.
In 2003 he launched Gerald Online, and with backing from an Indian supplier and initial publicity generated by Max Clifford, it has grown to become “Britain’s largest online jeweller”.
He described his frustration at not being able to use his own surname in the company name because of a legal objection from the chairman of his former firm. “I sued him and lost,” he said.