The news that Gerald Ronson has been awarded a CBE in the New Year Honours List completes an extraordinary turnaround in fortunes for the commercial property tycoon. Mr Ronson’s name was among a host of public figures and private citizens recognized for their contribution to society in the annual awards. But his inclusion has raised eyebrows on the account of the notoriety he has attracted during a long and colourful career.
Gerald Ronson, 72, is the founder and Chief Executive of Heron International, one of Europe’s leading property investment and development companies. The company has an investment portfolio worth £500 million and has developed more than one million square metres of commercial property in the UK and internationally. This includes offices, leisure facilities and mixed use buildings.
Mr Ronson built the company from his family’s furniture business which he joined when he was just 14. By the time he was 30 he had already moved into commercial property investment and was on the way to establishing Heron International as one of the wealthiest privately owned businesses in the UK.
But in 1990 Mr Ronson became the focus of unwelcome public attention as one of the so-called Guinness Four. Together with co-defendants Ernest Saunders, Jack Lyons and Anthony Parnes, Ronson faced charges relating to a share trading scandal that kept his name in the headlines for months. All four were eventually convicted of false accounting and theft and, with the exception of Lyons who was suffering from ill health, jailed for various terms.
Gerald Ronson was fined £5 million and sentenced to a twelve month sentence of which he served six months. He has always strongly protested his innocence and has taken legal recourse to clear his name. However, despite obtaining a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights declaring that his trial had been unfair, he has so far failed to get his conviction overturned.
On his release from prison Mr Ronson encountered further misfortune. Faced with losses of £1 billion, the future of Heron International hung in the balance and it was only saved by the courtesy of loans from prominent individuals including Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates. These loans enabled Mr Ronson to begin to rebuild his company which, twenty years later, is prospering once again.
Last year Heron International unveiled the 46 storey Heron Tower. Billed as an advanced business life environment and a benchmark in serviced office space, Heron Tower is the tallest building in the City of London. Mr Ronson also formed a private equity company in order to acquire over 500 petrol stations from Total. These will operate under the name Snax 24 the successor to his Heron Service Stations of the 1970s which pioneered self-service forecourts.
This business comeback has been accompanied by Mr Ronson’s continuing philanthropy. Spending 20% of his time involved in charitable work, he has donated more than £25 million to good causes. To further this work he has established the Ronson Foundation, raising money for charitable organizations including the NSPCC and the Prince’s Trust. It is for this achievement that Gerald Ronson has now received official recognition, crowning a controversial yet remarkable career.