Ronson's return

They thought he'd gone quietly. After all, the man had been humiliated, ruined and jailed

for his part in the most notorious insider dealing fraud of the Eighties. But then, they're

not Gerald Ronson, natural born tycoon and, once again, a big noise among the big boys

When Gerald Ronson's spectacular fall from grace came a decade ago, there was no shortage of gloaters. As he was sent down for a year - and fined pounds 5m - for his part in the Guinness scandal, the brash, Havana- smoking tycoon waved good-bye to a lavish lifestyle of Rolls-Royces and jets, along with his palatial homes and his beautiful former model wife Gail and four daughters.

Rightly or wrongly, he and his famous co-defendants, the Guinness chairman Ernest Saunders and the stockbroker Anthony Parnes, had come to represent all the avaricious, greed-is-good excesses of the City in the Eighties, when, in the rush to get rich the rules governing business were trampled into the ground.

So it warmed the heart of ordinary, poorer mortals to see Mr Ronson, minus the chauffeur and smart wheels, pedalling round the yard of Ford Open Prison on a bicycle. And oh, the sniggering, when it was reported that he was wiping up after his fellow inmates had eaten their meals.

Those who do not know Gerald Ronson thought that prison would break him, and that when he emerged from jail, so great would be the shame and the social stigma that all would shun him. But the past eight years have seen a rehabilitation - both personally and in business - which as been just as spectacular as his downfall.

Yesterday Mr Ronson formally announced his return to the London property market big time, with a pounds 250m deal involving eight prime investment properties in the West End of London and in the City. It marked the latest - and to date greatest - triumph in a claw-back from the abyss for a man who once had it all, and who at the age of 59 seems determined to have it all again.

So how did Gerald Ronson manage to pole-vault over the "disgraced tycoon" and shady dealer labels that dogged him, to get back into big business?

By the time he emerged from Ford Open Prison in 1991 after serving just six months of his sentence, he was apparently the governor's favourite prisoner. He had not just knuckled down and served his time. He had even run business courses for other inmates.

While Ernest Saunders seemed to have withered inside Ford, despite its "cushy" reputation, Mr Ronson, who was from a humbler, tougher background, throve. A third-generation Jewish immigrant, who had left school at 15 to join his father's furniture business, he had fought his way to the top of the business world. And despite the cocktail parties, the social climbing, the jets and the Rollses, he has stubbornly held on to his broad norf-London accent.

It was that rough, tough edge that saw him through. "Those who know him were not surprised he got through the sentence so easily," says one associate. "Because he is actually a pretty crude person, and the barrow boy has always been part of his persona. We knew he was more than able to tell another prisoner: `Don't fuck with me.' I use those words because he uses them."

Mr Ronson entered prison with something else in his favour. While his co-accused Mr Saunders and Mr Parnes squirmed from the charges and allegations of an anti-Semitic plot that had been circulated (ie that "the four Jews" were sacrificed for a much larger guilty group of businessmen), Mr Ronson already had his hands up, declaring it to be a fair cop. He owned up right away to his part in the illegal attempts to force up Guinness's share price to see off a rival bidder, the whisky giant Distillers. The only excuse he offered for what a government report referred to as "shabbily opportunistic" behaviour, was naivety.

"At the time, owning up was thought to be a stupid move," says one City observer. "But in retrospect he handled it best of them all. Unlike the others, he did not protest too much. He got on with it. In the long run it paid off."

Mr Saunders' solicitors eventually claimed that he had developed pre- senile dementia, in an attempt to have his sentence shortened. During an appeal in 1991 a court was told that Mr Saunders was "unable to recall three numbers backwards, forgets the subject of a sentence almost before he had started, and could not even remember who was the President of the United States". His later remarkable recovery, after early release, lost him considerable respect.

But although Ronson was seen to have taken punishment like a man, and even to have put something back into society, with his commerce courses for cons, he emerged to find his business in ruins.

For months the tabloids had screamed that he was still managing to run his vast business empire from his cell, though he claimed that his wife Gail was taking care of the business. But within months of his release Heron International - the business he had built from scratch to become the second-largest private company in Britain - was on the point of collapse, owing pounds 1.4bn. The man who risen from nothing to become the 14th-richest tycoon in Britain was staring over the edge. Business journalists speculated that his six months inside were to blame for the collapse, but Mr Ronson later pointed to recession and over-borrowing.

At times like these it helps to have friends, and crucially Mr Ronson's - despite the gossip column reports of social cold-shouldering - never really deserted him. "He's a popular, rough-diamond, salt-of-the-earth type," says a City commentator. "People like him."

They had stood by him at his trial. The chairman of Barclays, Sir John Quinton, who had once called him "the outstanding businessman of his generation" provided Mr Ronson with a glowing reference which, it is thought, helped to persuade the judge, despite the emotion of the times, to send him down for only a year.

And when Heron International was on its knees, friends were again on hand to pull it up again. A posse of American financial backers was rounded up and rode in - though it was touch and go at the time - to save the day. Among the backers were the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, the telecommunications billionaire Craig McCaw, and Time Warner. Since then the company has been slowly and securely regaining its place in the market.

But there was a personal price to pay. Mr Ronson remained chief executive but his 100 per cent stake in Heron was reduced to 5 per cent. It must hurt that the company he named after his father Henry Ronson now belongs to others, but recently Mr Ronson hinted that his share in the company might grow as he built up its successes.

If the past does hurt, he does not dwell on it. On his desk in his London office sits the motto on which he claims to have modelled his life. "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not, education will not. Persistence and determination are omnipotent."

Mr Ronson believes that. He now hates to speak about the past and his rise from the ashes, claiming to hate the way his life is summed up in such cliches.

He has written about his time in jail, but it is not for public consumption. It was for his grandchildren, he says, that he put pen to paper.

It was not just friendship that motivated his friends. Mr Ronson, unlike his co-accused, was an entrepreneur, and is still seen as bankable. The business world admires his stamina, determination and complete focus. And his charitable giving through his own foundation - which has handed out more than pounds 20m - has always been respected. However, though he was hobnobbing with the Royal Family just weeks after his release, the knighthood that, in normal circumstances, his giving might have earned him will not now come his way.

It is hard to find anyone who grudges him his return to the big time. In business they say that, a decade on, it is as if his downfall never happened. "No one in the business really thought he was a crook - just unlucky," says one businessman. "Now the Ford prison is just a bit of a giggle."

"Everyone labelled him disgraced, but the truth is, it could have happened to any of us. He was punished for the times." And who can resent a sacrificial lamb, when the sins it expiates are so liberally spread among others?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf