Billionaire buys Team Sky

Britain’s richest man, reclusive chemicals tycoon Jim Ratcliffe, emerged from the shadows on Tuesday to buy the world’s most successful cycling group, as Team Sky transforms itself into Team Ineos.

In December broadcasting giant Sky announced it would end its decades-long link with Team Sky, which won eight Grand Tour cycling victories — including six Tour de France titles.

Brexit-backing billionaire Ratcliffe, who has reportedly shifted his fortune to Monaco for tax reasons, will in May launch Team Ineos, named after the chemicals giant that he founded, with the hope of extending the cycling team’s global dominance.

The Ineos chairman has assets worth an estimated £21-billion ($27.8-billion, €24.5-billion), placing him at the top of the 2018 Sunday Times rich list.

He was only 18th on the previous year’s list but the value of his company, of which he owns 60%, soared to propel him up the ranks and earned him a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. It is a long way from his humble beginnings, growing up in social housing in Manchester, northwest England.

Ratcliffe began a 40-year career in the business world at investment company Advent International before creating Ineos in 1998. 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 $60-billion and employs more than 18 000 people in 24 countries.

Ineos grew through acquisitions, including the $9-billion purchase of petrochemical group Innovene, a subsidiary of BP. Ineos’s tactics have led to accusations of asset stripping, but Ratcliffe told the BBC in 2016 that it merely pursued “management with more cost-effectiveness”.

Ratcliffe is also a strong advocate of fracking, organising in late 2016 the arrival from the United States of the first cargo of shale gas destined for Britain. He has tried his luck at finding reserves at home, but progress has been slow in a country reluctant to move to fracking.

Ratcliffe has continued to diversify his group, entering into the automotive sector by building the Ineos Grenadier, aimed at being a successor to the rugged 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 already invested in the Belstaff motorcycle clothing specialist and Swiss football club FC Lausanne, despite being a Manchester United fan.

Ratcliffe also ploughed £110-million into British sailor Ben Ainslie’s Americas Cup team.

Media reports meanwhile surfaced this week that Ratcliffe was mulling over a potential takeover of Premier League football club Chelsea, owned by Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich.

Despite his business success, Ratcliffe has long-remained a secretive and “lonely” character, earning nicknames such as “JR” — in reference to the manipulative oil baron in the US TV 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 and therefore has no obligation to disclose its accounts.

The businessman has made his views clear on the thorny issue of Brexit, joining fellow British entrepreneur James Dyson to voice support for a withdrawal from the European Union.

“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 June 2016 referendum in favour of leaving the EU.

Pro-EU politicians, however, have accused Ratcliffe of hypocrisy after British media reported that he had taken advantage of Monaco’s generous tax regime rather than keeping his assets in Britain.

Tax concerns had already led him to relocate the headquarters of his company to Switzerland in 2010, before returning to London in 2016, saying he wanted to demonstrate his confidence in post-Brexit Britain.

Underlining that enthusiasm, Ratcliffe last month unveiled Ineos’s plans to invest £1.0-billion in several British energy projects. — AFP

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