If I Had to Start Again: Gerald Ronson of Heron International

The property tycoon and one-time member of the 'Guinness Four' tells MT what he would have done differently.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I wouldn't change what I do. I'm very lucky. I may work 80 to 90 hours a week, but I'm doing something I love. It's not work, it's a hobby. Not everybody is blessed with that.

I would continue to follow my instincts: I've got a good feel for whether a deal is or isn't going to work. If I can't make the maths work out basically in my head then it's not a deal for me. My petrol station business is the one thing I would ensure I had in my armoury if I were starting again. It's a very micro-managed business in its way, but it generates a good cashflow. I used the cashflow to help finance my property developments. I have built 156 buildings in nine countries around the world, from the Heron Tower in New York to town centres like Cardiff, Southampton and Sunderland.

I've had two big aggravations in my life. The first was the Guinness affair, which started in 1986, and the other was the restructuring of Heron in the early '90s (after disastrous losses in the US). The most important lesson I learned from the Guinness affair is to stick to what you understand and don't get involved in things where you rely on other people who you believe are honest but may not be.

But it's all history: the European courts declared it was an unfair trial in 2000. I put it behind me the day I walked out of Ford Prison. Prison was not easy, but you have to put a smile on your face and get on with it. That's what I've done all my life with all my problems.

America was an expensive lesson. It cost probably a billion dollars of my money. I made a mistake in that we had cross-collateralised assets, and when you do that it affects the good things as well as the bad things. By the end, we'd had enough of America and we needed to concentrate our efforts on saving our businesses in Europe.

If I were talking to a young person today I wouldn't necessarily advise them to go into the property business. The days when you could make a million by the time you're 25, I'm afraid, are long gone.

Gerald Ronson is CEO of Heron International. His autobiography, Leading From The Front: My Story, was published in June.


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If I Had to Start Again: Gerald Ronson of Heron International

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