Book - The Rise and Fall and Rise Again by Gerald Ratner

I think many of us felt a little sorry when Gerald Ratner made that speech that lead to his eventual exit from his own father’s jewellery company. Especially when, as transpired, he’d said the same ‘crap’ joke at many speeches before. But this time, for whatever reason, the press went crazy and it cost him is very well paid job.

One of the reasons I picked this book up, which was recommended on a business list, was to find out why why losing his job caused him to lose his fortune too.

You’d think he’d know enough about money to ensure invested well for all eventualties. Turns out his London property was owned by his company, his own house was mortgaged to the hilt just as the property crash happened and the shares of his company went down due to his comment leading to dive in sales, but he had to sell to stay afloat.

Running Ratners is all he ever thought he would do.

He does, however, know how to build a business. He wanted to make his beloved father’s company the largest jeweller in the world and he almost did that. Most certainly the way I remember it, the four jewellery brands under Ratner did equate them to be the largest jewellery retailer in the UK and they’d already expanded into the US by buying up chains there.

It was interesting to get an idea of his background to learn what drove Ratner Junior to be in awe of his Dad and wanting to take over the business in the first section, The Rise. There were some lows, notably his sisters suicide. This came after the parents insistence that her boyfriend converted to Judaism before they could get married. He was fine with it, but then the rabbi still refused him and eventually couldn’t take the pressure and broke off the engagement.

But in the main, this book means business. For jewellery, it’s all about the window. Did you know that all diamond rings are 42″ from the ground to be at eye level of average height woman 5’4″. I’ve since checked – it’s true! Also it was important for Ratners to keep the same stock for a long time to aid people saving for engagement rings. They also had the exact same window displays in all shops to force items to become best sellers; people buy what they see often.

The world changed in the 80s though with the rising popularity of credit cards and even more since with the want-it-now generation.

Fun fact: my home town of Bedford had the pleasure of being the 5th Ratners shop.

One of the business lows was losing their buyer Terry, who has been given a lot of credit for Ratner’s success. Alarmingly, he’d managed to set up his own retail business while still at Ratners! Of course he had to leave and eventually his small chain of Terry’s stores was bought by Ratners and he was persuaded to come back as part of the deal. Of course by this time, he’d built his fortune and didn’t necessarily need the salary, although there was a tricky divorce taking place.

At this time, Ratners considered the Terry’s model to be the best and they too became a cheap jeweller rather than the stiff one that Gerald’s father and uncle had originally created. They also bought H Samuels and eventually American chain Sterlings. This is when Ratner discovered that firstly, Americans liked boutique brands so large retailers have stores under different names that locals respond to.

Secondly Americans pay their employees far more – their president got paid more than him! I’ve always felt Americans regard their retail employees much more seriously than the UK do, where working in stores is seen as a low-level stop-gap.

Although that speech proved disastrous, we learn some of other times when Ratner used the press to work in his favour, like when he spread the rumour that Ratners should be the ones to save another family jewellery chain who were in danger of going under.

I don’t recall Next – then still run by George Davis – starting a jewellery arm though. It didn’t work because they tried to make it upmarket and Next customers were expecting costume jewellery, as the author explains.

For all his rise and fall and rise again, Ratner does seem big headed even when talking about restarting his online jewellery business in the Noughties. He talks about the time of not needing offices or staff and so bragging about how many shops/staff you manage being a measure of success, became invalid. Several times he states he was Britain’s biggest online jeweller.

I’m all for ambition & yes it’s true, but give it a rest. It’s in the same category as people who feel the need to put they have an OBE on their social media profiles.

Ratner is still rather unlikeable even with the help of a ghost writer. His business theory seems solid but I can’t really feel sorry for someone who was worth £12m but too arrogant to look after his personal wealth & downgraded spectacularly after the press got wind of his crap jokes.

Just because your name is on the door, does not mean you are sheltered from catastrophe.

To complete the stereotype, after the breakdown of his first marriage, he hired a new PA and then married her.

However, for a business story, this book is thoroughly enthralling.

Black Box Thinking

I loved Bounce so have been anticipating this with some excitement. Matthew Syed undertakes all the research so we can just sit back and learn it all by reading his books.

Bounce took the idea that just about anyone can be good at pretty much anything, it just takes practice. My take on Black Box Thinking puts out the idea that if more of us learnt from mistakes, the world would be a safer, better place.

Having been to the authors promotional event at the local Waterstones, I was warned about the heart-breaking opening story about Elaine Bromiley, a healthy lady dying on the operating table during a routine operation.

The author asks who in the audience was interested in sports, education or teaching? Whilst I have an interest in all three, my category – business – wasn’t mentioned. Being a fan-girl, I just turned up and bought the book on the day. There are always a few avid readers who go to these things armed with questions. I’m not one of those.

This is how I learnt what this book was about and it is indeed entirely relevant to my world. 

A good summary of Black Box Thinking is that whereas in the aviation industry, they immediately look for evidence as to why the accident happened and how they can do better next time, saving untold lives, the medical profession, in the main fails to learn from it's mistakes.

In an American study, a million people are said to be injured by hospital errors. 120,000 each year. A later 2013 study puts figure at 400,000. This is the equivalent of a 9/11 catastrophe happening every 2 months.

We wouldn’t tolerate this in any other area of preventable harm.

In the UK, 34,000 are killed due to human error.

In aviation, independent investigators immediately find out what went wrong, how to fix it and then share that openly with the world. Every pilot has access to the data. Syed says soon we won't need black box as all the info will have been already transmitted to a central database while the accident is happening. 

Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself.

Sullenberger, who landed the plane in the Hudson River (while I was living in just up the road in New York, incidentally) credited all the lessons learnt from aviation deaths to his safe landing. 

The Toyota Production System (TPS) was put in place so if anyone on the car production line had a problem, they pull a cord which halts production. The error is assessed, lessons learnt and the system adapted. Try putting that into health service where mistakes are frowned upon & people are too scared to report their seniors, which is why the preventable death in the opening paragraph occurred.

30-60000 deaths in USA are due to central line infections (catheter placement) 

A healthcare organisation in America, Virginia Mason tried to put into place Patient Safety Alerts in 2002 but no one would report the errors. After the next death,  their boss issued a public, heartfelt apology. Complaints started coming in and it’s now one of the safest hospitals in the world and they saved 75% in insurance premiums too.

Pronovost (who wrote Safe Patients, Smart Hospitals) instituted 5 point check list and saved 1500 lives. Plus c $100m over 18 months in Michigan.

To really bring it home, I learn it took 264 years to put a preventative measure for scurvy in place.

So that others may learn, and even more may live - Martin Bromiley, husband of Elaine and campaigner.

More BlackBoxThinking business learnings here. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts to share, please contact me via @RickieWrites



Book: Leadership by Alex Ferguson and Michael Moritz

My job was to make everyone understand the impossible was possible.     That’s the difference between leadership and management.    Alex Ferguson

My job was to make everyone understand the impossible was possible. That’s the difference between leadership and management. Alex Ferguson

 You cannot lead by following… Michael Moritz

No chasing of money. Provide excellence in everything you do, the money will come in…Alex Ferguson


I don’t read many business books. In fact, I don’t read any these days. I stopped that habit long ago as I didn’t learn anything new to what Dale Carnegie taught me three decades ago. (His ‘How to Win Friends… is still the best and read again every few years). My regular reader will know I have read my fair share of sports biographies as I relate the ‘being the best I can be’ attitude these people tend to have in order to be at the top of their game.

So Sir Alex Ferguson sits way up above those at the top of their game.

Just as I finished reading this tomb, I was running a workshop and mentioned I’d just completed the second best book ever. They waited until I breathlessly and without a gap relayed some of my learnings before asking, ‘what was the best one?’


As I learnt from a Sue Barker wall chart as a child, we can never rely on our opponent to make mistakes in order to win. SAF says the way to win is by attacking and over-running the opposing side.

On research: time spent in research is never wasted.

On networking: You have to make everyone feel at home, and that they belong. He’s been influenced by Marks & Spencer, who decades ago in harder times, gave their staff free lunches because some of them were skipping lunch to save money and help their families.

On failing: The only time to give up is when you are dead – already a favourite and chimes with my ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ Bon Jovi mantra.

You don't have to love the team, you have to respect individuals abilities.

SAF accepted anxiety as ‘part of the job and it if it disappeared, that would be the warning sign that I wasn’t up to the job.’

We had a virus that infected everyone. It’s called winning.

I’m unsure if this is true now in the days of flexible working but I see what he means when talking about football: ‘nobody wants a top performer who can only work 3 days a week.’

I’m keen to use the right words as I know the affect they have on people. When you say to people they look miserable, they will feel sad, similarly fat, ill, under nourished etc. SAF talks of refusing to tell players they look tired for the same reason. Instead he will say “you’re so strong, nobody is ever going to be able to keep up with you.”

On confidentiality: he has a small group of confidents, because it takes years to build these relationships. SAF calls it the ‘inner circle too’. I have an inner–circle – will drop everything and do anything for me and the outer-circle – the same but more build of business friends. He quotes his father ‘you only need six people to carry your coffin’.


From Michael Moritz after studying SAF for years:

The great leader will embrace audacity and the unthinkable, will not shirk from making controversial and unpopular decisions, and will have unshakeable confidence in his convictions.

 He will understand that others in the organisation capable of doing things that he himself cannot do or would not do as well.

He will derive more satisfaction from the achievements of his organisation than from his own accomplishments, will not demand outlandish compensation for himself, will treat the organisation’s, money as it were his own and will have no particular need to be singled out by the spotlight.

He will probably watch and listen more than he talks, will not radiate anxiety when the chips are down, will have a keen understanding of what he doesn’t know and a fetching sense of humility.

If he does his job well, people will see him as being tough but fair.

He will definitely not feel the need to be universally loved.

If you know any manager working in your local council with the above attributes, can you introduce them to me please?

I see many people in positions of responsibility who’s only purpose seems to be not lose their power. This is described as ‘having achieved the position he has sought for many years, he will concentrate on making sure that nothing goes wrong on his watch, will be wary about offending others, will shy away from making difficult decisions, will be at ease with the imperfections of compromise, will allow his strategy to be dictated by others, will find refuge in appeasement and court the affection of those around him.’

Moritz writes about SAF knowing how to extract the extra 5% - the difference between silver and gold. I could have copied all 38 pages of the epilogue here as it’s the most excellent summary of leadership I have seen.

 He final point from Moritz: great leaders are competing – not with others – but with the idea of perfection itself. For them, greatness is just never good enough.