'Admit your errors', advises Ratner

IF you make a mistake, put your hands up and admit it, the man behind one of the major business gaffes of the 20th century has told East Anglian business leaders

IF you make a mistake, put your hands up and admit it, the man behind one of the major business gaffes of the 20th century has told East Anglian business leaders

Gerald Ratner, the jewellery entrepreneur who disastrously joked about his product, describing one item as “crap”, yesterday raised plenty of laughs at an East Anglian conference with his dead-pan description of his abrupt business demise 16 years ago.

Mr Ratner was part of an impressive line-up of business personalities to address the East of England Development Agency's Destination Growth event held at Duxford Imperial War Museum which also included American ice cream entrepreneur Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben and Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream, and Jacqueline Gold, chief executive of underwear empire Ann Summers.

Also among the speakers were two East Anglian entrepreneurs - Al Gosling and Will King.

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Mr Gosling, originally from near Halstead in Essex, is founder of the Extreme Group, which has raised the profile of extreme sports with a range of products from TV channels to a café/restaurant chain, and Mr King is founder of shaving products company King of Shaves, who is originally from Lowestoft.

Mr Ratner sent himself up as he turned the story of his business demise into an entertaining business morality tale for delegates as he described how he overcame major setbacks following the fateful speech to set up an online business, geraldonline.com.

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Mr Ratner, who has spent the last few years recovering from his mistake and has written a book about it, revealed that he still hopes to buy back his old business after raising the cash to do so. He said he has also been asked to appear in a TV programme about helping ailing businesses out of difficulty.

He described how he had been lampooned by the press, but said he did not blame the media for his demise.

“I have never blamed the press, because you always look so stupid blaming the press,” he said.

He revealed to the EADT prior to his speech to delegates that he did miss some aspects of his old life, although he said he taken a new direction in life and was now cycling every day.

“I do feel nostalgia, especially for the money, but there you go, life's full of ups and downs,” he said. “I think I have got a better balance in my life now. I cycle 30 miles every day. I'm more relaxed.”

Mr Ratner, who now lives near Maidenhead, said of his gaffe: “It was a dumb thing to say, but the effect it had was totally over the top.”

He added: “Publicity sometimes is a turning point in a company to the good. In my case it was to the bad.”

Mr Greenfield urged East Anglian business leaders to adopt a social conscience as he addressed a packed conference.

“There's a spiritual aspect to business,” he said. “As you help others, you are helped in return.”

In their company, they had decided to have a “two-part bottom line”, which included addressing the growing social problems in the world, instead of simply being profit-driven.

“It's just a mindset and if you get rid of that, the opportunity to address both those bottom lines is essentially limitless,” he told delegates.

“We had grown up in the 60s and for us, business had all these negative connotations,” he said. “We decided to stay with the business and make it something we were proud of.”

He said although the initial reaction to their philosophy had been negative, there had been a change of attitude where being socially responsible was considered to be good business thinking, he explained.

“We were considered lunatics. Believe it or not, we are considered respected business people at this point,” he said.

But he expressed regret in hindsight that they had “gone public” with the company to take it to the next level and that it was now owned by Unilever, although the pair continue to work there.

“I think once we went public there was no turning back,” he said.

Asked whether he was happy at the company being run by the multinational, he said: “You know, yes and no. I'm actually surprised at some of the things they have allowed the company to do.”

He cited a pie chart they used on the ice cream showing the large chunk of the US budget spent on arms, which they had been allowed to go ahead with under Unilever.

* Winners in the EEDA Running the Gauntlet entrepreneurial contest were announced last night.

From a shortlist of 10, two companies, Norfolk online estate agency House Revolution and Bedfordshire-based Pets' Kitchen look set to secure investment interest.

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