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U.K. billionaire bidding for Manchester United plots a U.S. expansion

March 23, 2023

U. K. billionaire Jim Ratcliffe has built one of the world’s most unconventional conglomerates—a sprawling collection of assets that includes a global chemicals business, and baubles like a centuries-old London pub and a luxury British fashion brand.


Now the 70-year-old tycoon—who was knighted in his home country but isn’t as well known outside of Europe—is making a deeper push into the U.S. market, reports The Wall Street Journal.


Ratcliffe, majority owner of the privately held London-based chemicals giant Ineos, this year plans to launch a sport-utility vehicle in America called the Grenadier, named after the historic pub he owns, where he and his partners hashed out the design over beers.


What’s more, last month, he made a push into the Texas oil patch, launching a $1.4 billion play on fracking at a moment when the business is under growing pressure.


Meanwhile he is in a multibillion-dollar bidding war for Manchester Unitedarguably the U.K.’s most storied soccer club and the team Ratcliffe rooted for as a boy.


“The grand plan—I mean, there isn’t one,” Ratcliffe said in a recent interview by phone from Monaco, the tax-free principality that is his primary residence.


Ratcliffe’s holdings are now spread across 25 core businesses with combined sales of roughly $65 billion in 2021, the most recent year made public—an empire built primarily through deal-making. Ineos has made more than 80 acquisitions in 25 years. 


With most of the deals, Ratcliffe told the Journal, he identified gaps in the market that he thought he could fill. That includes his continued interest in the U.S. energy market. “Oil and gas is in turmoil,” he said. “What that does is create opportunities.”


The bid for Manchester United is an exception. “Our interest in that club would be purely in winning things,”Ratcliffe said. He described Manchester United as a “community asset” rather than a financial one. 


Ratcliffe declined to discuss financial details of his bid, in which he is competing against a Qatari sheikh. Many speculate the final price will top the $5.3 billion paid for Chelsea last year—the highest amount ever for a sports team.


“How do you decide the price of a painting? How do you decide the price of a house? It’s not related to how much it cost to build or how much it cost to paint,” Mr. Ratcliffe said. “What you don’t want to do is pay stupid prices for things because then you regret it subsequently.”


Ratcliffe, who has made expeditions to the North and South Poles, is accustomed to taking chances that others won’t and seeing value in assets others don’t want.


“Jim likes counterintuitive things,” says Ineos director Tom Crotty, a 22-year veteran of the company.


Though a billionaire many times over, Mr. Ratcliffe could struggle to match the deeper pockets of Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani, the chairman of the Qatar Islamic Bank, in a bidding contest for the club.


In a career of calculated investment decisions, this pursuit has a twist. “That in a sense goes without saying, because sport is emotional,” Ratcliffe said.


Research contact: @WSJ