Of Making A Comeback After One Of The Worst Mistakes in Business [Interview with Gerald Ratner]

Image: 123people.com
Image: 123people.com

In the mid 80s, Gerald Ratner took over as the CEO of his family jewellery chain. Under him, the company grew to 2,500 retail stores and grossed sales of over £1.2 bn by 1990. But one evening, everything came crashing down. At a speech, Ratner jested about the jewelry sold by his company. Angry users paid back by staying away from the jewellery chain. The group lost nearly £500 million in value and was pushed to the verge of bankruptcy. Ever since, Ratner’s speech has been on the list of top CEO gaffes and also frequently called one of the worst CEO mistakes ever.

But Ratner has picked up the pieces and moved on. The British businessman is now making a comeback. A couple of months ago, Ratner announced a partnership with an Indian company to launch an online jewellery store Geraldonline.in. In an e-mail interview with NextBigWhat, Ratner shares his plans, views on India and making a comeback. Edited Excerpts:

Q.1 What are your near term and mid-term plans for India?

Our near term plans include launching and growing GeraldOnline in India. When you invest in a new country, it is important to have local partners. And the fact that we have partners in India works to our advantage. Also, we firmly believe that internet in India will grow to be just as popular as UK where the online market has a 12% purchase rate. It is inevitable that India will soon see a tremendous growth in online purchase rate as well.

Q.2 Besides the new online store and your existing tie up with the Indian manufacturer, what are your other interests (business and otherwise) in India?

We only want to concentrate in online business in India. We are not planning to open any physical stores; we just want to create a niche in diamond jewellery sector in the online retail market.

Q. 3 What are your views on the business climate in India? What excites you about the online landscape?

It is exciting to see that the economy is strong in India. It is also very welcoming for an international player. We started Online Business in 2003 and have created a mark for ourselves in the UK jewellery industry and we believe that we will create the same standing in the Indian market. It also gives us an upper hand to be the early bird.

Q. 4 What is the opportunity you see in India?

We see great opportunity in the Indian jewellery sector. India is a diverse country with different tastes and needs and we would like to create different designs and products especially meant for Indian audience.

Q.5 What is your advice for entrepreneurs?

Business is like a painting. For a painting, you have to have a vision and an eye for detail. In the same way, for business, only having an idea won’t help; the secret lies in detailing. “Never give up, no matter what” is an important lesson I learnt as I was turned down consecutively by 11 banks. I firmly believe that the “Root to Success is through Rejection”. There is only one mantra for success and that is through rejection.

Q.6 How must entrepreneurs face mistakes and failure and what are some of the ways you’ve dealt with it?

It is important to make mistakes because that is how you learn not to repeat them. The biggest lesson to be learnt from failure is that you should never give up; you should instead learn from them and be very cautious the next time.

Q.7 How do you deal with mistakes that just refuse to die and bounce back?

It is difficult to get back on your feet after facing such criticism; you tend to start believing what you hear and that makes a comeback even more difficult. But if you study some great entrepreneurs worldwide you will realize that some of them have come very close to bankruptcy and went through massive setbacks, picked themselves up from really bad situations. It is just a part of business. Business is difficult but if you accept that then its no longer difficult.

Recommended Read: ‘Sultan of Bling’ Gerald Ratner to launch online jewellery store in India

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