They took on the Grangemouth unions together and won, but now it seems Ineos chairman and founder Jim Ratcliffe has had an almighty bust-up with his former right-hand man Calum MacLean over the latter’s poaching of the chemicals giant’s finance chief.
MacLean quit as chief executive of Ineos, which he launched with Ratcliffe in 1998, late last year and was announced as the new boss of Synthomer in November. Then today the FTSE 250 chemicals company said it had nabbed Ineos’ chief financial officer Steve Bennett.
That has reportedly irked Ratcliffe, who was apparently already smarting at MacLean’s departure, so much that he is apparently taking legal action to try to claw back some of his former lieutenant’s lucrative exit package. MacLean had reportedly been due tens of millions of pounds, most of which he has already been paid, according to City A.M. But Ratcliffe is apparently arguing that Bennett’s appointment breaks the terms of that deal.
A letter seen by City A.M. references Synthomer’s code of business conduct, which says ‘the trust and confidence of those with whom it deals’ is ‘one of its most important resources’. ‘Given that our two companies have a number of trading relationships, your CEO’s behaviour on this issue seems to me to be totally at odds with that noble sentiment,’ the letter said, a snub more cutting than a chemical burn. Ineos could not be reached for comment.
Ratcliffe, renowned as a no-holds-barred dealmaker, is not a man to be crossed. But then MacLean is an equally tough customer, having taken charge of the battle for Grangemouth, which saw Ineos triumph in changing working conditions and getting Government loan guarantees after threatening to shut the Scottish petrochemicals plant down.
Ineos, whose headquarters were controversially moved to Switzerland over a tax bust-up in 2010, was grown from an £84m buyout of a chemicals company to a $54bn (£36.6bn) turnover leviathan with 17,000 employees in 16 countries via a series of aggressive acquisitions before the recession (it’s now betting on shale gas).
Given that Synthomer’s 2014 sales were just shy of £1bn, the reports that MacLean is preparing to expand his new fiefdom through that same tried-and-tested strategy are not surprising. The fall-out with Ratcliffe will be an unwanted distraction, though – especially as it’s likely neither man likes to lose.