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How one speech brought down the Ratner Group


[Today's email is by Rakshith]

Gerald Ratner was the wealthy and successful CEO of his inherited family company Ratners Group (now called the Signet Group).

Then, at a prestigious dinner in 1991, attended by near 6,000 of his industry peers, Ratner was asked to speak. He showed a draft of the speech to his advisors and one of them said it is good but it is missing a joke. So he added a few.

In the speech, 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 made a few more jokes like that. He thought he was being self-deprecating. But the next day, their stock took a plunge, and almost immediately, the Ratner Group was worth £500 million less. One of the most successful businesses of the time was brought down to bankruptcy because of a few ill-conceived jokes in one speech.

Ratner’s story can teach us a lot about humour and choosing our words carefully.

But the story doesn’t end there. Ratner today is a successful motivational speaker who talks about how to face adversity and overcome your mistakes. As much as we can learn from Ratner’s mistakes we can also take a lesson from how he bounced back.

Watch Gerald Ratner speak on YouTube. He is lovely to listen to.

Learning from others,