Brainfood: Decisions - Gerald Ratner, Geraldonline, chief executive of the internet jewellery retailer


Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Acquiring H Samuel when I was managing director of Ratners was one of my best decisions. It was 1986 and we had 135 Ratners shops. H Samuel had much better locations than we had, and better shops, nearly half of which were freehold. They were also about three times our size.

We thought no-one could touch them because they were a family company, but I managed to buy 27.7% of the family's shares and then went to see the mother of H Samuel's chairman and said I wanted to buy the company. Amazingly, she said yes. After that, I had a meeting with the chairman, Anthony Edgar, and we agreed a deal.

We eventually bought the company for £150 million. It was an amazing deal for us. We went to having 600 stores in one hit. It really did put us on the map. Our sales went up to £150 million, and our profits shot up.

The deal also enabled us to go on to make other high street acquisitions, such as Ernest Jones, which we acquired in 1987, followed by the small Stephen's jewellers a year later.


I'm not going to say my worst decision was making that speech. Instead, Ratners had a deal to buy Gordon's, an American equivalent of H Samuel.

At the board meeting to ratify it, I invited an analyst to give a market perspective on how the deal would be received. He said our shares would fall in the short term. This frightened some directors and we walked away from the deal. Someone else bought Gordon's.

A year later we bought Kays instead. It was a similar-sized American jeweller's, but the deal's structure left us highly geared. Then I made my now-famous speech, which was taken out of context and met a reaction totally over the top. The combination of the high gearing and the speech led the City to say I should hire a chairman, instead of being both chairman and CEO. I found the change difficult.

My big mistake was heeding the City's short-term advice. They're in the business of hyping up your shares - the worst thing for a firm's long-term future. You can't let the City dictate how to run your business.

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