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 business people and students in Mansfield and Ashfield.

In a joint initiative from Mansfield & Ashfield 2020, West Nottinghamshire College, and Nottingham Trent University, Mr Ratner spoke at three events last week.

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 campus at West Nottinghamshire College, where he delivered a speech to college and university students.

Jane Box, 2020 chairman, 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.”

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.

In the question and answer sessions that followed his Mansfield engagements, he also offered advice to businesses and to students.

Shane Gunstone, owner and founder of Asmech Systems Ltd, said: “I found Gerald to be quite inspiring. Although he has been a multi-millionaire, he seems a normal, fallible person who is able to laugh and smile about things. He has also hit rock bottom and risen from the flames.”

Hayley Wood, from Wood’s of Westgate, an award-winning salon in Mansfield, was at the breakfast meeting. She said: “His story is the stuff of legend, and a key message was about never knowing quite what is around the corner. He is a living embodiment of bouncebackability and thinking differently when you really have to.”

Jane Fishwick, Assistant Principal 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 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.”

Lorna Baisley, an Alumni Relations Executive at NTU, listened to Mr Ratner’s speech. She was wearing the 18-carat gold wedding ring that was bought from a Ratners shop for her wedding to husband Adam back in 1991.

She said: “It was very insightful, particularly about crashing and picking yourself up and starting again. He also highlighted how things said in public can be taken out of context.”

Sarah Mayfield, Director of the Mansfield Hub and UK College Partnerships, said: “What an insightful talk he gave to students, and I know they found it useful. To hear from someone who has been in such a high-profile role and who has lost it all, but then showed resilience, was a great experience.”

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