Make or Break

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‘Life is the sum of all your choices’ Albert Camus

One single decision can make a business or bring it to its knees. Journalist Owen Bennett-Jones dives into the world of high stakes decision-making as he speaks to the business leaders who risked it all to win.

Make or Break – Episode 2

The Prawn Sandwich Disaster

WHO: In the wake of the 1980s economic boom, Gerald Ratner took over the small family jewellery business. Within just seven years, Ratner had transformed it into a multi-million pound empire and even broke into the American market. The company was immensely popular with the British public as it offered affordable products at bargain prices. Ratner was at the top of his game and had shops on every highstreet.

DECISION: In 1991, Ratner was invited to speak at the Institute of Directors conference taking place at the Royal Albert Hall. He sent a draft of his speech to the company heads for approval, and one director advised him to add a couple of gags. In front of 6000 business people and journalists, Ratner read the infamous speech, gags and all. Although the jokes were not intended to offend, the British press had a field day and splashed stories about Ratner’s contempt for his customers across the front pages. The public were incensed by his jokes, and felt mocked. The company’s shares dropped £500 million in a matter of days. Ratner was eventually fired and would remain penniless and the butt of jokes for years. He would return to the jewellery industry at the turn of the millennium but in a very different format, taking the business online.

This Podcast is brought to you by Radio Wolfgang for Auddy

It was presented by Owen Bennett Jones and it featured Gerald Ratner

It was produced by John Jo Devlin and Eli Block and the Executive Producer was Ellie DiMartino

With support from The Open University – www.openuniversity.co.uk/management


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