After trashing the company that shared his name with a few choice words, Gerald Ratner now runs one of the UK’s most successfull online jewelry stores—it’s a lesson in reputation management

British businessman Gerald Ratner is best remembered as the former millionaire chief executive of the jewelry company Ratner Group who famously belittled his own products.

Speaking openly, at an event he later said he thought was private, Ratner poured scorn on a number of products he sold: "People say to me how can you sell this for such a low price. I say - because it's total crap."

Ratner was sacked for his honesty and the entire chain of stores had to change its name to distance itself from its cheap and nasty image. The speech wiped £500m off the value of the company and continues to resonate today with the media and business community, who view it as an example of the value of reputation.

‘I became a tabloid punch bag,’ declared Ratner, who revisited the incident during a keynote speech at IACON 2008.

“It’s only when I got my business back and running that people began to forgive me.

Gerald Ratner

In his speech he compared the foul up to Matthew Barrett, chief executive of Barclays, saying that credit cards are too expensive and that he wouldn’t let his children use them. ‘Barrett does a Ratner,’ ran the headline.

Another comparison Ratner used was that of Labour press secretary, Jo Moore, who became embroiled in a scandal after sending an email on September 11, 2001 saying that now would be a good time to bury bad news.

Once voted the nation’s biggest banana skin, Ratner explained how he managed to turn around the bad publicity and relaunch his jewelry business over the internet. He said creating a positive from a negative was easier than launching a brand from scratch. And after initial hesitation from the press, Ratner paid for a major publicist to fight in his corner. ‘It’s only when I got my business back and running that people began to forgive me,’ he said. Gerald Online is now Britain's most successful online jewellery business.