It may surprise you to hear that Britain’s wealthiest man is not nobility or a City mogul; as of 2018 the title goes to Jim Ratcliffe, founder and CEO of the petrochemical group Ineos.
Coming from a modest but entrepreneurial background, Ratcliffe made his fortune in petrochemicals through his company Ineos. An accomplished sportsman and ardent Brexiteer, he has been a tax resident in Monaco since the summer.
Born in 1952 in Failsworth, a small town on the northern outskirts of Manchester, he spent his childhood living in social housing with his carpenter father and office worker mother. Ratcliffe was the first member of his family to go to university. In 1974, he graduated with a chemistry diploma, which allowed him to get a job as as an engineer at Esso.
A late-blooming entrepreneur
Gradually, Ratcliffe came to realize that chemistry qualifications alone were not going be enough for him to achieve his goal of getting rich. To give new impetus to his career, he believed that knowledge of finance was essential. In 1989, he received an MBA from the London Business School then joined the Advent private equity fund, which he would go on to direct.
In 1998, he created Ineos. Taking advantage of the restructuring of the refineries and oil products sector, the group grew rapidly thanks to a strategy based on external growth. In 2006, Ratcliffe's company pulled off a major coup with the $9 billion purchase of Innovene, a BP subsidiary specializing in petroleum products. This investment allowed Ineos to consolidate its position in Italy, Germany, Belgium, Canada and France. But the acquisitions did not stop there. The latest headline-making takeover: the acquisition of the oil activities of the Danish state-owned energy company Ørsted. Ineos now has 24,000 employees spread over a hundred sites in twenty-four countries. On the financial side, the group is not quoted on the stock exchange and is therefore not required to publish its accounts.
To grow his empire, Jim Ratcliffe has always been prepared to invest heavily, for example in infrastructure and R&D, but he has no scruples about pulling the plug on underperforming units. In 2013, he won a showdown with employee representatives at the Grangemouth refinery in Scotland, who were forced to accept a social plan and a cut in benefits as part of a modernization plan. The billionaire didn’t lose any sleep over the outcome: "I hear that I am ruthless when I plan to close a unit that loses money. But only in Europe is there such an attitude. In the United States or China, nobody thinks that," he asserted in an interview with French daily Le Monde in 2013.
Although energy remains the heart of Ratcliffe's activity, he does not shy away from investing in other projects. A champion of British engineering, he is the man behind "Projekt Grenadier" which aims to create and produce a successor to that most British of off-road vehicles The Range Rover Defender.
A Pro-Brexit Boss
Jim Ratcliffe remains discreet about his personal life but makes no secret of his political ideas. In 2015, he told The Sunday Times he supported Brexit. For him, leaving the European Union is above all a way to avoid bureaucracy and taxes. Because if there's one thing Jim Ratcliffe seems allergic to, it's taxes. In 2008, in protest against what he saw as the United Kingdom's excessive taxes, he set up his company's headquarters in Vaud, Switzerland, before finally taking it back home in 2016.
In August 2018 he stoked controversy once more, by choosing to settle in Monaco for tax purposes. The move created quite a backlash in Britain. But Ratcliffe is nothing if not thick-skinned. This marathon runner has the stamina to see his projects through, be they personal or professional.