When Land Rover ended production of the Defender, the assembly line had not yet come full stop before an eccentric billionaire began making claims he was going to single-handedly bring the vehicle back to life. The uber-rich are prone to such musings, but Jim Ratcliffe is not your garden variety rich guy, he’s a genuine captain of industry.
Born in 1952, and raised in the English port town of Hull, Ratcliffe took to business like a duck to water. His first job at the oil giant, Esso, leveraged his chemical engineering education, but his real talents were in finance. Early in his professional life he transitioned into management positions before eventually co-founding INSPEC, the entity currently known as Ineos.
Ratcliffe’s fortunes were initially derived from leasing existing facilities and manufacturing chemical products which were already in high demand. It was his business acumen, not his dogged pursuit of innovation, which allowed him to quickly acquire two dozen more companies. This in turn created an empire worth more than $45 billion dollars in annual sales. As 60-percent owner of Ineos, Ratcliffe is one of the wealthiest men in Europe.
With his experience managing existing companies and resources, it stands to reason Ratcliffe would see the opportunity in taking an already successful product like the Defender and simply moving it further down the production timeline. He has extensive expertise in manufacturing with organizational efficiency being his strong suit. Ratcliffe also carries significant clout with the British government as it pertains to economic development. Latest reports indicate he is currently vetting manufacturing facilities in Germany, but it seems more likely this would be a home-grown endeavor.
Although Ratcliffe maintains an international business presence throughout Europe and Canada, the British government would be keen to add more jobs within the country, particularly on the heels of the exit from the EU. If that were the course taken, estimates suggest the government’s buy-in would reach as high as $100 million dollars.
As much money as that represents, it’s a drop in the bucket relative to the projected $800 million dollars Ineos would need to get the project off the ground. But capital is not the only obstacle in the way. When Jim Ratcliffe announced he wanted to build a successor to the Defender, Jaguar-Land Rover (JLR) officials didn’t cotton to the idea and have every intention to defend their Defender. Prior to wrapping up production, JLR trademarked five distinct attributes of the Defender design. That doesn’t prohibit Ineos from building a damn fine 4×4, but it can’t echo the design elements of the country’s most famous 4×4.
It’s easy to dismiss Ratcliffe as just another billionaire bored with buying islands and leveraging national elections, but there’s more to the man from Hull. Radcliffe, as removed as he is from the limelight, probably has more in common with the likes of Elon Musk and Richard Branson than he does Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. A man of adventure, Ratcliffe has undertaken expeditions to the North and South Poles, fancies himself an expert sailor, and lives a life appropriately paired to a capable 4×4. If all goes as scheduled, the first Ineos truck will roll off the line only a couple years after Land Rover reveals their own successor to the Defender. Who knows, maybe Ratcliffe will see the new Land Rover as unbeatable and go back to manufacturing chemicals. – CN