Branding Hell or One Helluva Brand?

Gordon Ramsay

Lives are filled with changes and twists – his was no exception. Early in his life those changes were driven by his father. whose various occupations included welder, shopkeeper and swimming pool manager to name but a few. His various jobs and aspirations – many failed – often meant he had to frequently move his wife and four children. 

The boy was born just outside Glasgow, Scotland but spent much of his youth in Stratford-upon-Avon, England – where the family finally settled down. This stability allowed him to pursue his passion for football – a sport at which he was quite good.  He was so talented in fact, that he had visions of becoming a professional soccer player. That aspiration became reality when, at age 15, he was signed to play for the Glasgow Rangers, a professional soccer club in his birth city. After three years with the team, his life took another twist. His soccer career came to an abrupt halt when he blew out a knee.

With that dream gone, he had to decide on a new path – and began to study hotel management.  In so doing, he discovered an intense passion for cooking. He worked for a variety of restaurants in London prior to joining the very temperamental Marco Pierre White’s staff. After nearly three years – tired of “the rages and the bullying and violence” – he determined that he needed to study French cuisine to advance his career. He worked under Albert Roux at Le Gavroche before moving to Paris to study for three years under Guy Savoy and Joel Robuchon – both Michelin starred chefs. Then came another significant change.

A new London restaurant, Aubergine, sought him to be their head chef, including a 10% stake in ownership. There, he combined his culinary talents with his drive for perfection to achieve two Michelin stars for the restaurant and was named the Newcomer of the Year  at the Catey Awards (think Oscars for hotels and restaurants).  

Building on that success, at the age of 31, he opened his own restaurant – doing so yielded significant results. The opening became the subject of a documentary film titled Boiling Point, the restaurant earned a third Michelin star within three years (the only Scottish chef to have done so) and he won Chef of the Year at the Catey Awards.  

He is known for a being a culinary perfectionist – hot-tempered, volatile, abrasive and prone to using expletives. Both in spite of those character traits and because of them, he has achieved stratospheric success. His restaurant group has locations across the globe, he has written several best-selling books and he is the star of numerous reality television shows in the U.K and in the U.S.  He is one of, if not the most recognized chef in the world. These accomplishments aren’t what define him as a fearless brand. Rather they are the result of Gordon Ramsay building his personal fearless brand.

Fearless Brands are authentic and relevant – even in the face of controversy

What makes Gordon Ramsay a fearless brand is this – he is genuine and authentic; he embraces his passion(s); he optimizes his skills and he is relevant. Fearless brands don’t need to be liked. On the contrary, there are countless examples of brands that evoke intense dislike and controversy. (See Donald Trump and Howard Stern). 

Gordon Ramsay’s empire is built both on his talent and his drive for perfection. His restaurants have won a total of eleven Michelin stars led by the three stars Restaurant Gordon Ramsey – his first – continues to hold. Both the food and service in his restaurants have to be a completely positive experience to maintain their success. His television shows, on the other hand, thrive as much from viewers who find Ramsay offensive as they do true fans. 

There is no shortage of controversy in Ramsay’s life – ranging from a very public legal battle with father-in-law, feuds with other celebrity chefs and shabby treatment of people on his show and in his kitchens. His abrasive nature is cited as the key reason for a former employee’s suicide. What is ironic is that he left his first position with Marco Pierre White because he was tired of “the rages and the bullying and violence”.

There is no question that Ramsay is driven – he achieved his stated goal of completing ten marathons in ten years. He is giving – actively supporting several charities through the years. He is a family man – living with his wife and four children in the U.K.

Between the theatrics of his television shows, Ramsay delivers great advice to chefs and owners. This also holds true for his books. There is a great deal to learn from him about building a fearless brand.

Focus on your strengths – In his own words – “Commit to a menu that you know how to do, and do well.” Ramsay gives this advice consistently and it is at the core of a fearless brand – focus on what you do best.

Embrace your passion –  It is virtually impossible to have any exposure to Ramsay and not recognize his raw passion – it’s what drives him and helps to create the stratospheric success he has created.

Be relevant – Ramsay was once criticized by a contemporary as delivering ‘boring food’ – maintaining three stars at his primary restaurant seems to dispute that. The continued high ratings for his television shows and his many best-selling books suggest the public finds his food, his content and him to be very relevant.

Controversy happens – Make no mistake, I am not suggesting anyone needs to be as volatile and contentious as Chef Ramsay. However, no one can be all things to all people and that includes being able to meet others’ expectations. There will always be detractors and naysayers. The key is to be authentic and remain true to yourself and your  goals while accepting that controversy happens.

When it comes to fearless branding – understand that it’s fine to be a ‘nice’ person. It is important to note that “All things being equal, people will do business with – and refer business to – people that they know, like and trust.” That is one of the many results of being a fearless brand – and a fearless brand is one helluva brand!


Friday's Fearless Brand

Coach, International Speaker and Thought Partner - Bill’s mission is to add value to the world – one brand at a time. Bill guides individuals and companies alike in building what he refers to as a ‘fearless brand’. This is the process of discovering, embracing and delivering their greatest value – which allows them to realize greater profit. Read More

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