“It was the biggest corporate gaffe of all time”: Five lessons from the rise, fall, and rise of Gerald Ratner

He was the Icarus of Bling: the eighties high street baron whose jewellery empire straddled the world — until a single joke ended the party..

Gerald Ratner doesn’t spend much time on Twitter these days. But it’s not the echo chamber, or the noxious debate, or the latent threat of cancellation at every turn that keeps him away. It’s his name. Once the shimmering moniker above the world’s greatest jewellery empire, those six letters now mean something else entirely, as Twitter will eagerly remind you. In business textbooks across the world, ‘Doing a Ratner’ has become shorthand for a corporate or public blunder of catastrophic proportions — a foot-in-mouth moment of forehead-slapping calamity. Needless to say, these days it trends all too frequently in hashtag form.

Not that Ratner needs much reminding. In the early 1990s, he was riding a wave — a modern master of the universe, with a private jet, a fleet of cars, and a behemotic chain of some 2,500 stores to his name. And then he made that speech — a chummy appearance in front of the Institute of directors at the Royal Albert Hall — and fired off a few self-deprecating jokes that he’d told a dozen times before. This time, however, they landed differently. F.W de Klerk, the President of South Africa, was also there that day, and made a historic and momentous speech on the end of apartheid. But, as Ratner points out, it was his face that covered the tabloids the next morning. Here, he reflects on the lessons of his remarkable career. 

1. Genius steals

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