Who is Ineos boss Jim Ratcliffe?

The chemicals billionaire plans to build a car brand from scratch.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 13 Feb 2017

They were once the preserve of farmers and the military, but nowadays you’re as likely to see a 4x4 on the roads of Chelsea or Cheshire as in a field. Last year Jaguar Land Rover ceased production of its rugged Defender range, which wouldn’t have been in keeping with the emissions regulations due to come into force in 2020.

JLR says a replacement model is in the works. But in the meantime Jim Ratcliffe, the multibillionaire founder of Ineos thinks he has spotted a lucrative gap in the market. He plans to launch a new 4x4 ‘inspired’ by the Defender that will be manufactured by Ineos – potentially in the UK.

But who is Jim Ratcliffe? Though he’s one of the UK’s most successful and wealthy businesspeople, he doesn’t have an especially high profile (largely because Ineos remains in private hands, and is therefore exempt from the reporting rules that bind listed companies). Here’s what we do know:

Formative years: Ratcliffe has a classic entrepreneur’s story of ascending from (relatively) humble beginnings. The son of a joiner and an office worker, he was born in Manchester and went on to study chemical engineering at Birgmingham University. After a spell at Esso he studied an MBA at London Business School and went into the more glamorous world of private equity. 

Seeds of success: The heady smell of petrochemicals remained a big draw. In 1992 he founded Inspec, a management buy-out vehicle that took over BP’s chemicals division. Six years later he founded Ineos, which bought out Inspec and the freehold for the company’s Antwerp facility. Ineos’s name is both an acronym of Inspec Ethylene OxideSpecialities and, conveniently, a mixture of the Latin words ‘ineo’ (new beginning), neo (new) and Eos, the Greek goddess of dawn. The company grew rapidly through acquisitions, eventually making Ratcliffe a very wealthy man indeed. 

Labour pains: Ineos is perhaps best known for its fractious relationship with the Unite union, which has tended to cast Ratcliffe as something of a pantomime villain. Staff at its Grangemouth facility, which provides 70% of Scotland’s petrol, walked out in 2008 over the closure of its final salary pension scheme. In 2013 Ineos provoked more fury by saying it would be closing down Grangemouth’s petrochemical works, but a last-minute deal with Unite kept the facility in operation. 

Today: Ratcliffe was named Britain’s 30th wealthiest person in the latest Sunday Times Rich List, with an estimated fortune of £3.2bn. He owns 60% of Ineos, which is the UK’s largest private business, and remains CEO and chairman. Last year he moved the company’s HQ back to the UK after six years in tax-friendly Switzerland. As well as its automotive plans, Ineos hopes to start fracking in the UK soon. 

Outside the boardroom: He’s a busy boy. A fan of adventure sports, Ratcliffe has visited both poles of the earth and runs marathons. He’s had two superyachts called Hampshire and, imaginatively, Hampshire 2. A backer of Brexit, last year he told the FT: ‘The Brits are perfectly capable of managing the Brits and don’t need Brussels telling them how to manage things.’ 

Don’t mention: Tea breaks. Ratcliffe faced the scorn of workers at Grangemouth last year after Ineos decided to scrap their ‘mid-morning refreshment break.’

Image source: Chemical Heritage Foundation

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