Gerald Ratner, the jeweller whose fall from grace has been described as “one of the most spectacular ever seen in our times”, is set to be the headline speaker at a major B2B exhibition taking place in Suffolk later this year.
Mr Ratner served as CEO of the family jewellery chain of the same name in the 80s and transformed it into a billion pound business before a publicity gaffe led to its decline and his departure.
Now a high-profile public speaker, he will discuss his rollercoaster story and the valuable lessons he has learned at The MENTA Business Show, scheduled to take place at The Apex, Charter Square in Bury St Edmunds on Tuesday 2 October.
When he took over the business in the 1980s it had 130 stores with sales of £13m but by 1990 he had transformed it into the world’s largest jewellery retailer with profits in excess of £120m. After floating on the stock exchange, sales topped £1.2 billion and the number of stores it owned ran to 2,500.
But in 1991 Mr Ratner’s world fell apart when he gave a speech at an Institute of Directors conference at the Royal Albert Hall and mocked his own products. He described his company’s sherry decanter as “total crap” and said its earrings were “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long”.
In an interview with the Sunday Times last year, his wife Moira revealed she had warned her husband against making the quip when he was preparing the speech but he believed it would go down a treat.
The consequences of the joke, which saw him lose his fortune, led to a “Ratner moment” becoming shorthand for a catastrophic business gaffe.
Mrs Ratner said: “I absolutely advised Gerald against making the speech, but he knew what he wanted. He had been working on it for months and was seriously prepared. He even got an MP to help him. Today, he has come to terms with it all. He loves reflecting on the bad times during his public speaking. He’ll start by showing a clip of the Albert Hall speech. I never watch — it’s too painful.”
The event in Bury St Edmunds, which is now in its 10th year, is free to attend and attracts business leaders from across the region.