English property entrepreneur. Ronson built up the Heron International group into one of the UK's largest private companies, with interests in commercial property, financial services, vehicle distribution, and petrol retailing. He is credited with bringing the self-service petrol station concept into the UK in the late 1960s. Heron nearly collapsed in the 1990s slump, but was rescued by a US investor group, including media entrepreneur Rupert Murdoch, in 1995. Ronson has since remained chief executive of the company.
In 1990, Ronson was briefly imprisoned for his part in allegedly stealing £5.8 million from Guinness in a share support operation with three others, including English executive Ernest Saunders, the then chair of Guinness. During that company's £2.7 billion takeover of Distillers in 1986, they allegedly received indemnities in return for taking a market position to maintain the price of Guinness shares. Ronson was fined £5 million and served six months of a 12-month prison sentence at Ford Open Prison, where he reportedly ran business courses for other inmates. In 2000 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ronson and the other three men had been denied a fair trial.
Ronson was the son of second-generation Russian-Jewish immigrants. He left school at 15 and went to work in his father's furniture business. Heron Service Stations (named after his father) started in the mid-1960s when Ronson saw an opportunity to develop a chain of own-brand petrol stations, and became one of the first to offer clean sites and shops on garage forecourts, owning nearly 1,000 sites by 1969. He later sold 30 sites to Shell and allowed other oil majors to establish their own operations on Heron sites while he diversified into other areas of property and business.
After his release from prison, Ronson's business faced collapse, with debts of £1.4 billion. Heron International was restructured in 1993 and most of the trading businesses were sold (the remaining petrol stations having been sold to Elf Acquitaine in 1991). After being rescued in 1995, Ronson remained chief executive, but his 100% stake was reportedly reduced to about 5% of the business. In 1996 he unveiled a £100 million programme to develop retail and residential properties in major European cities, the first opening in Madrid in 1999. In 2000 he received approval to build a skyscraper in the City of London, construction of which is ongoing (2008).