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The Corporation

Posted: 19/06/23

Students hear infamous ex-jewellery magnate’s pearls of wisdom

Gerald Ratner, the businessman whose infamous jokes about products his shops sold led to the downfall of a retail giant, has been sharing his life’s ups and downs with students at West Nottinghamshire College and Nottingham Trent University.

  • Mr Ratner with some of the students and staff from West Nottinghamshire College and Nottingham Trent University who attended his talk, joined by Jane Box (right) chair of Mansfield and Ashfield 2020.
  • Ex-jewellery magnate Mr Ratner detailed what happened following his infamous comments, his other business interests, and how he is now.
  • Mr Ratner with (from left) Jane Fishwick, assistant principal at West Nottinghamshire College; Sarah Mayfield, director of NTU’s Mansfield Hub; and Jane Box, chair of Mansfield & Ashfield 2020.

Mr Ratner recently spoke at three events in a joint initiative from the college, Mansfield & Ashfield 2020, and NTU.

He was the after-dinner speaker at a special 2020 evening held at Il Rosso on Nottingham Road, Mansfield, and was the keynote speaker at the following day’s 2020 breakfast meeting at Portland College.

Following the 2020 meeting, Mr Ratner then went to the NTU Mansfield Hub at the college’s Derby Road campus, where he delivered a speech to college and university students and staff.

Mr Ratner had been head of the Ratners Group family business, and under his stewardship, it had become highly successful, with thousands of outlets.

But in 1991 he gave a speech at a conference of the Institute of Directors, during which he said: “We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, "How can you sell this for such a low price?", I say, "because it's total crap.”

He then went on to say that a set of earrings was cheaper than a Marks & Spencer prawn sandwich but that it would not last as long as the sandwich.

Following his comments, the value of the Ratner Group dropped by around £500m, and consumers avoided its shops. Mr Ratner, who had been chairman and CEO, appointed a new chairman, who then dismissed him.

Mr Ratner, who is now a speaker and a mentor, said: “I certainly didn’t enjoy the seven years after it happened, but I’m happier now and I appreciate things more.”

He added that in his opinion, the media reported his comments out of context.

His speeches, delivered with a lot of humour, detailed what happened following his comments, his other business interests, and how he is now.

Jane Fishwick, assistant principal for academic, creative, community, digital and professional studied at West Nottinghamshire College, said: “It was a fabulous, humorous speech to hear, and I think he was quite honest with what he was saying. There was also a lot of advice and food for thought.”

College student Anya King, 16, who studies the Intermediate Certificate in Business, said: “I found it interesting, particularly about how to be successful and how to pick yourself up when you need to.”

Fellow business student Tamanna Haque, 17, said: “There was a lot to listen to, but how you get back up was the really interesting bit.”

And classmate Morgan Rushforth, also 17, added: “I hadn’t heard of him but I listened to what he had to say and it was really good. He was quite inspirational and there was good business advice about not discounting products or going into debt.”

Jane Box, chair of Mansfield & Ashfield 2020, said: “What a story he has to tell and what an inspiration he is. He has experienced incredible highs and awful lows so people can learn a lot from what he says.”