UK’s richest man thrust into the limelight
Ratcliffe amassed wealth through unlisted company
London — Reclusive titan of industry Jim Ratcliffe has found himself under unusual scrutiny after being declared Britain’s wealthiest man, with his political leanings and tax affairs coming under the microscope.
The 65-year-old head of the Ineos chemicals group has assets worth an estimated £21bn, putting him top of the 2018 Sunday Times rich list.
He was only 18th on the 2017 list but the value of his company, of which he owns 60%, soared in 2017, propelling him up the ranks and earning him a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II.
It is a long way from his humble beginnings, growing up in social housing in Manchester, northern England. After earning a chemistry degree from the University of Birmingham and an MBA from the London Business School, Ratcliffe began his 40-year career at investment company Advent International before creating Ineos in 1998.
IT’S STRANGE FOR SOMEONE WHO PRESENTS THEMSELVES AS PATRIOTIC TO MOVE TO A TAX HAVEN.
The company went on to become an industrial juggernaut in a country increasingly dominated by the service sector.
The group now has annual sales of $60bn and employs more than 18,000 people in 24 countries. Chemicals manufactured by Ineos are found in various everyday products, from shower gel to medication.
Ineos grew through acquisitions, including the $9bn purchase of petrochemical group Innovene, a subsidiary of BP.
He acquired the giant Grangemouth refinery in Scotland as part of the deal, where he was soon plunged into battle with unions.
The group’s tactics have led to accusations of asset stripping, but Ratcliffe told the BBC’s HARDtalk programme in 2016 that it pursued "management with more cost effectiveness".
He is also a strong advocate of shale gas, organising in late 2016 the arrival from the US of the first cargo destined for Britain. He even tried his luck finding reserves at home, but progress has been slow.
Ratcliffe has continued to diversify his group, entering into the automotive sector with the aim of building the successor to the Land Rover Defender car.
The group will decide in the coming months whether assembly will take place in Britain or on the continent.
The marathon-running entrepreneur has also invested in motorcycle-clothing specialist Belstaff and Swiss football club FC Lausanne, despite being a Manchester United fan.
Despite his success, Ratcliffe has long-remained a "secret" and "lonely" character, earning nicknames such as "JR" — in reference to the manipulative oil baron in the US television saga Dallas — and James Bond villain Dr. No, according to a 2014 Financial Times profile.
Privacy is also a hallmark of his Ineos group, which is not listed on the stock exchange.
However, Ratcliffe has made his views known on the thorny issue of Brexit, coming out as one of the few bosses to support the move to leave the EU, like fellow entrepreneur James Dyson. "The Brits are perfectly capable of managing the Brits and don’t need Brussels telling them how to manage things," he told the Sunday Times a year before the 2016 referendum.
Despite his professed patriotism, Ratcliffe has shifted his fortune to Monaco, according to British media, taking advantage of the principality’s generous tax regime. The move put him in the sights of pro-EU politicians, who accused him of hypocrisy.
"It’s strange for someone who presents themselves as highly patriotic and has been given honours to move to a notorious tax haven," Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable told The Times.
"It’s unfortunate that when we make a song and dance about a national hero who’s investing in the UK, they disappear to Monaco."
Tax concerns had already led Ratcliffe to relocate his headquarters to Switzerland in 2010, before returning to London in 2016, to apparently demonstrate his confidence in the UK.