Ratcliffe, 64, is the world’s richest Mancunian. Growing up in Failsworth on the outskirts of the city, he used to count the chimneys he could see from his parents’ council house. It inspired him to forge a career in industry. The son of a joiner and an office worker mother, he founded and runs Ineos, one of the world’s biggest chemical companies.
Many of Manchester’s industrial chimneys may have stopped puffing but beyond the city Ratcliffe certainly controls a good number of them at his 67 sites in 16 countries. His path from Failsworth to entrepreneur came via grammar school and a degree in chemical engineering from Birmingham University in 1974. After a stint at Esso he got his big break in 1992 when he bought BP’s chemicals business. Despite having a young family, he mortgaged his house and put all his money into the deal. His company, Inspec, soon floated on the stock market, but the shares crashed after the price of chemicals plunged. Ratcliffe did another risky deal, taking back part of the business. It was a success, and the renamed Ineos grew by using debt to buy unwanted parts of oil or chemical groups.
Ratcliffe came close to disaster again during the credit crunch and faced down a banking syndicate to keep control. In 2010 he pleaded with the government to grant Ineos a tax break, arguing it would help secure the future of an employer of more than 10,000 British workers. Whitehall said no. Ratcliffe and 20 executives then decamped to Switzerland to save an estimated £100m a year in corporation tax. The company made £2.7bn profit on £18.1bn sales in 2015. In a boost for the UK, since last May Ratcliffe and his executives, including John Reece (qv) and Andy Currie (qv), have returned to London. Added to this, Ratcliffe has looked at reviving the iconic Land Rover Defender, which went out of production in January 2016, and earlier this year it was announced that Ineos will invest "hundreds of millions" of pounds in a similarly styled rugged off-roader.
Ratcliffe is also a strong advocate of shale gas extraction in the UK. Ineos hopes to start drilling in the north of England this year and could begin extracting gas in about 18 months through the controversial process of fracking, further driving Ratcliffe's wealth. Holding 60% of Ineos, he is worth about £5.75bn with his other assets such as yachts, hotel interests in the New Forest and an impressive property portfolio, including a vast estate in remote northeast Iceland that he bought in December. Ratcliffe, a keen fly fisher, said he had no development plans and his "sole purpose" was conservation as the area's rivers provide important breeding grounds for Atlantic salmon.
Jim Ratcliffe: “I grew up amid Manchester’s smokestacks. I want to put the factories back”
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