Who is Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the billionaire tycoon looking to buy Manchester United?

Sir Jim Ratcliffe already has a sports portfolio that includes the Ineos Grenadiers cycling outfit, a third of the Mercedes F1 team, and France’s Nice football club  (AFP via Getty Images)
Sir Jim Ratcliffe already has a sports portfolio that includes the Ineos Grenadiers cycling outfit, a third of the Mercedes F1 team, and France’s Nice football club (AFP via Getty Images)

Billionaire tycoon Sir Jim Ratcliffe has revealed his interest in launching a takeover bid for Manchester United after the club was put up for sale by the Glazers.

There had been rumours that the English petrochemicals magnate, 70, had ambitions to take over his boyhood club when the Glazers first indicated they would be willing to sell in November.

Ratcliffe’s company Ineos said on Tuesday that it had registered its interest with the merchant bank running the sale for the Glazer family, making it the first potential bidder to go public.

“We have formally put ourselves into the process,” a spokesperson for Ineos, a petrochemicals and fracking company, told The Times.

Ratcliffe is not new to sports ownership — he currently has a portfolio that includes the Ineos Grenadiers cycling outfit, a third of the Mercedes F1 team and France’s Nice football club.

The formal process of bidding for United is expected to start next month, with interest from the US, the Middle East and Asia also expected.

From humble beginnings

Born in 1952, Ratcliffe grew up in a council house on Dunkerley Avenue in Failsworth, a town between Manchester and Oldham.

The son of a joiner and an accounts office worker, the family moved to Yorkshire when Ratcliffe was 10.

“I suppose I did have this inkling that I wanted to be successful — that I wanted to be a millionaire one day,” Ratcliffe told the Daily Express in 2018. “So those things were in my head at 18. But I was just dreaming, really.”

During his school days, Ratcliffe has stated he was interested in playing only football and he became an avid United supporter.

On his first day at the University of Birmingham, he was embarrassed to see he was nearly at the bottom of a list of 99 undergraduates ranked by their A-level results. However, he achieved a 2:1 in chemical engineering.

“It lacked a bit of sensitivity,” he said of his education. “But you could say it was fair. There were a lot of guys who had worked very hard at school while I was out playing football.”

Ratcliffe worked for BP during a summer holiday after graduating and was offered a job. But he was controversially fired after just three days because his boss had seen his medical report and wasn’t keen on him working there with mild eczema.

Becoming the UK’s richest man

Ratcliffe’s first proper job was with oil giant Esso. But he decided to broaden his skills to finance by studying management accounting, taking an MSc in finance at London Business School from 1978 to 1980 (he donated £25 million to the school in 2016).

In 1992, he took the risk of mortgaging his house to buy BP’s chemicals division for around £40 million, floating it on the stock market two years later.

He quit the company in 1998 — by then his 10-year marriage to his first wife Amanda Townson with whom he has two sons, had ended in divorce. In the same year, at the age of 45, he founded chemical giant Ineos.

During the next 20 years, he transformed it into the world’s fourth-largest chemicals company, with annual revenues of £45 billion.

In 2019, Ratcliffe topped the Sunday Times rich list as the UK’s richest man.

‘Publicity shy’, Brexiteer and avid runner

Once described by the Sunday Times as “publicity shy”, Ratcliffe tends to keep a low profile.

He lives in Monaco and Hampshire, England. In September 2020, he controversially changed his tax residence from Hampshire to Monaco. This is estimated to save him £4 billion in tax.

Before he left for Monaco, Ratcliffe was the UK’s third-highest individual taxpayer, paying £110 million to the exchequer in 2017-18, according to the Sunday Times tax list. His decision to quit Britain came soon after he was knighted by the Queen for “services to business and investment”, and the UK voted to leave the European Union.

A Eurosceptic, Ratcliffe urged the Government to adopt a tough approach to negotiations with the EU after the referendum, saying: “We must listen, we must be unwaveringly polite and retain our charm. But there is no room for weakness or crumpling at 3am when the going gets tough and most points are won or lost.”

Along with two sons with his ex-wife, he has a daughter from a previous relationship with Maria Alessia Maresca, an Italian tax lawyer.

Ratcliffe enjoys physical adventure and has undertaken expeditions to the North and South Poles, as well as a three-month-long motorbike trek in South Africa. In 2013, he completed the Marathon des Sables across the Sahara Desert.