The Rise and Fall...and Rise Again
After over 25 years in the jewellery trade, Gerald Ratner was one of the most well-known and successful retailers of his generation. He had built up a highly profitable, multi-million pound international business, including household names like Ratners, H Samuel, Ernest Jones, Watches of Switzerland, as well as over one thousand stores in the US. Being asked to give the keynote address at the Institute of Directors' annual conference at The Royal Albert Hall was a great honour and should have been the crowning glory on two decades of empire building.
Gerald's speech was seized upon by the media after he included jokes about the quality of some of the shops' products. But the far-reaching impact that these jokes would have no one could have predicted.
'Even though I had once had my name above hundreds of shops up and down the country, it had become more famous as a byword for crap. It took several years to realise just what an impact the speech had had on every aspect of my life.'
Press coverage of hardback version:
'... a rollicking good read'
- Michael Skapinker , The FT
'Most business autobiographies are so overlaid with ghost-writerly blandness that the character of the subject is lost. Mr Ratner had help with this one, but fortunately he is still there: obsessive, funny and a bit of a scoundrel - the last mitigated by how well he knows it.'
- The FT
'self-effacing, revealing and human'
- Luke Johnson , FT Business Life
'A few ill-chosen words to a well-heeled audience 16 years ago reduced Britain's biggest jeweller to poverty. Now he reveals how he bounced back'
- Jewish Chronicle
'...contains lessons for us all'
- Management Today
'...worth its weight in gold'
- The Independent
'Everyone knows the story of Gerald's rise and fall - what an amazing story and well worth reading.... I couldn't put it down, totally gripping and inspiring stuff, you really couldn't see this coming from such an energetic, passionate man'
'I have read many bio's from business leaders and most are boring 'how to get rich' or 'let me tell you a long list of not very interesting stories with all the good bits missed out'. Gerald's book is very different it is a great read, I could not put it down'
'Sobering and enlightening at the same time. A great read and a morality tale of our time.'
The Rise and Fall...and Rise Again
CHAPTER 1 Family Life My father opened his first jewellery shop in 1949, which also happens to be the year I was born, and as my mother worked in the shop while she was pregnant with me, I think I can claim to have been born into the jewellery trade. It is in my blood, and that makes it almost impossible to talk about my family and childhood without also talking about the business - in my mind the two things are inseparable. And that, of course, is what made losing the business all those years later so much harder. I didn't just lose my job, I lost the only job I'd ever had, and the only job I'd ever wanted. If you've never worked in a family business, it can be hard to understand, but I loved the business like it was part of the family, and in some ways the business was a bit like having a third parent or an extra sibling. My parents had met in India during the war, when my father Leslie was stationed there. On Fridays, local Jewish families invited Jewish soldiers to participate in the Sabbath with them. One of those families was my grandmother's. She had fled to Bangalore from Iraq with her 11 children to escape persecution of Jews after a coup had brought a pro-Nazi leader to power. Call me cynical, but I'm pretty sure my father was invited with the sole intention that my grandmother would be able to marry off one of her daughters, and as it happened my father fell hook, line, and sinker for her eldest, Rachelle. He was a very impulsive man, and the fact that my mother had a daughter from a previous marriage didn't deter him at all. My parents were to remain utterly devoted to each other for the next five decades, but their marriage caused friction between my father and his family. When he returned to their house in St Albans after the war, they were appalled. 'What have you done?' they asked. 'Not only is she divorced, but she's not even English!' They turned him away, and from that day on, my father never got on with my grandfather again. It wasn't much of a welcome home for a returning soldier, and my mother was left in no doubt about what her in-laws thought of her. I'm sure this made my parents even closer. While he'd been in India, a friend had given my father some Persian carpets to sell as they'd fetch a better price in England. He used to tell me he was demobbed with 10 shillings and a packet of cigarettes, so he was very motivated to get a good price for these carpets. He went round to my grandfather's rich neighbours with the rugs on his shoulder, selling them door to door. By all accounts they were amazing carpets, and when he got on his hands and knees and rolled them out, people had never seen anything like them. He was supposed to wire the money straight back to India, but with a wife and step-daughter to think of, he used the cash to open his first shop, which was in Richmond, West London. The fellow in India kept asking for the money, but my father kept stalling him until he had sufficient cashflow. It was very naughty of him, but I imagine that my mother was somewhere in the background, egging him on. She always told me that she was from a very good family, and I get the impression she was a bit shocked at her economic status in post-war London. At the time my parents were living in two rooms above a dental surgery in Richmond, down the road from the shop. Before long they'd be sharing those rooms with their first child together, my sister Juliet. It could have been any kind of shop - I'm sure my father would have made a success of any trade he'd gone into - but he chose jewellery because his father had once been a watchmaker, so I guess he felt he had a bit of grounding in the industry. It wasn't a great business at first, but it paid the rent. A few months in though, he had a stroke of luck when one of his contacts supplied him with gold lockets from America that transformed his business. Loc