Bill Main FCSI: What we can learn from Gordon Ramsay

Bill Main FCSI looks at the business lessons to be learned from Gordon Ramsay’s recent £10 million legal case

I found the recent controversy in the UK over celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay being found liable as a guarantor of a pub lease to which his business partner committed his company—with an electronic signature of all things—to be deliciously ironic. Chef Ramsay, a man who states he will “take no prisoners” on his popular TV shows, was allegedly not watching his business close enough, and is now paying the price in settling the £10 million $15 million) claim against him as well as underwriting legal fees.

This drama is another example of how reality television has continued to creep through our industry, turning restaurateurs and chefs into celebrities with agents and personal assistants. From Restaurant Impossible to Hells Kitchen to The Profit and, my favourite, Shark Tank, there are waves of newly-hatched celebrities, living the Hollywood dream, reading their press clippings, and learning the hard way.

The lesson here is that business is business, and when you stop being a businessman and start being a celebrity, bad stuff can happen. And the sordid tale of a London pub, a father-in-law acting as business manager, a brother-in-law who gets sacked for gross misconduct is a classic. Using the purported ‘ghost machine’ to sign Chef Ramsay’s signature electronically on a pricey long-term lease of a London pub is either ridiculously stupid or deliriously dishonest, maybe both.

Don’t misunderstand me. I have a great deal of respect for the culinary skills, charisma, energy and creativity Chef Ramsay continuously displays on his show. But let’s be serious. A 25-year lease is not exactly a subtle legal document. The payments, penalties and legal costs that the UK’s High Court finding has determined are Mr. Ramsay’s responsibility—based on his guarantee—clearly must have shown that the celebrity chef was asleep at the switch.

During the 23 years I had my own restaurants, and now approaching 1,000 clients as an FCSI consultant, I am still constantly working to watch the details, read the fine print, understand the financial aspect of every client decision. This means read the lease, don’t just turn it over to an attorney. It means understand your financial statements; don’t defer to your accountant. It means do the hard work to know and understand the compliance and regulatory environment in which you find yourself. Because, if you’re a celebrity chef, you are a target, as apparently Mr. Ramsay has learned the hard way. Everybody should learn this lesson.

This is a life lesson that will continue to be learned. There is always Running the Restaurant, or television show like Hells Kitchen, but there had better be someone running the business.

I wish Mr. Ramsay God speed and good luck—he’s going to need it.

Tucker W. ‘Bill’ Main FCSI, CSP

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