Extraordinary Roads to Success

By Fatmanur Erdogan, Hürriyet Daily News

Last week, many marketing and communication professionals gathered for the Marka conference at Istanbul’s Çırağan Palace. Marka is a truly inspiring event. Every year, it lifts up my spirit, it unleashes my creativity, and it ignites my passion for entrepreneurship.

The conference had many great speakers, two of whom were particularly memorable. The first, Gerald Ratner, a well-known British businessman, saw his life forever changed by a communication crisis, and in rebuilding he rose above challenges that would destroy most others. The second, Ora-Ito, a French designer, changed his name so he could find fame and success on his own terms, not as the son of famous designer Pascal Morabito. The unknown Ora-Ito reached stardom creating fake products for well known brands like Luis Vuitton.

Gerald Ratner openly described the business world saying, “Business is unpredictable”. Born into a wealthy family, Ratner quit school and started work at the age of 15. His passion was to build his family business, Ratner Jewelry, into the world’s number one jewelry store. In 1991, as the CEO, he became the darling of business circles because even during an economic downturn, he managed to run a perfectly healthy, growing business. However, at an after dinner speech in 1991, he made the mistake of a lifetime: He cracked a joke, which turned into a gaffe, and made people think the jewelry he sold was “total crap”. That mistake cost him a £600,000 annual salary, and his business’ value dropped £500m.

After suffering public humiliation for over 5 years, unable to get a job, he turned his luck around by starting an Oxfordshire health club and signing up 850 customers before the club was even built. His financing requests were rejected by 7 banks before the 8th one approved funding, and only because the bank manager’s wife had already joined the club. In 2001, he sold the club for £3.9m. Since his passion is jewelry, in 2003 he went back to the business and now runs an online jewelry company at geraldonline.com

The second speaker, Ora-Ito was kicked out of a French design school and was determined to survive on his own. With no diploma under his belt, he sent his resume to companies like Louis Vuitton, Nike, and Apple, but did not receive even one response. So at age 21, he started to create fake designs for those same brands and show them online. When he started to get stacks of orders from customers, the brands finally took notice. Ora-Ito says, “It was my way of taking revenge. If the internet didn’t exist, I wouldn’t be here today”.

His presence on stage is striking, his broken English coupled with a French accent. His energy knows no end, coming from a deep passion for what he does. Like Gerald Ratner, he is not snobby or pretentious. He is simply himself.

One man is 60 years old, the other 31, but they are both extremely successful businessmen. Both have endured difficulty. Both have experimented with many options, drawing on their creative talents until a light appeared at the end of the tunnel. Both have incredible passion for what they do, and the determination to achieve their goals in uncommon and unconventional ways.

In this global economic downturn, when layoffs come one after another, I urge you to remember these two men who turned hardship into fame and success. I want to remind you that there is not just one way to reach your goals or excel in your career. Life brings us many opportunities. Grab them, learn to explore and experiment with the new and the unknown. The challenge that intimidates you today might unexpectedly open the doors to a wonderful future.

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