Challenges are inevitable and INEOS has faced many during the past 25 years. But two major events rocked INEOS to the core - the 2008 financial crisis and a bitter industrial dispute in Scotland in 2013.
The financial crisis was the worst since The Great Depression and, for INEOS, remains the darkest moment in the company’s history as it appealed for calm among its investors. And the Grangemouth dispute almost ended with the closure of the loss-making gas cracker.
INEOS not only survived both, but it emerged stronger as a result. INEOS decided to meet regularly with its investors and investment in the Grangemouth site triggered a renaissance, bringing shale gas to Scotland.
In 2008 the world was facing the worst financial crisis since The Great Depression. And INEOS was caught up in the storm as it spread like wildfire across the Atlantic. Three years earlier John Reece, Andy Currie and Sir Jim Ratcliffe had pulled off the deal of the century after borrowing $9 billion to buy BP’s massive chemicals business. But now the banks were on the verge of freezing INEOS out. “It was definitely the darkest moment in our history,” said John.
INEOS met with its lenders and successfully agreed a temporary waiver of the covenant with banks in return for offering to pay higher interest rates on its loans.
But it was an uncomfortable and difficult meeting. What it did do, though, was open INEOS’ eyes on the need to change.
For years Jim, John and Andy had been solely focused on growing the business and had not invested any time in investor relations.
“We realised that when we did have a problem, we didn’t have any friends,” said Jim.
They left that meeting, determined to host an investor day once a year.
And they have done ever since. “In those days, the investors never really understood us, but now we do our best to explain the different businesses,” said John.
“It means when we do go and ask for finance, they are up to speed with what INEOS is about and it’s just about the transaction.”
Workers' dispute at Grangemouth
A BITTER industrial dispute engulfed the Grangemouth site in Scotland in 2013. INEOS said it was prepared to invest £300 million as part of a survival plan to bring in much-needed shale gas from the US – if it could bring down costs at the loss-making site.
Grangemouth had not performed well since the 2008 crisis and was being propped up by other businesses in the INEOS group.
“We couldn’t keep funding these losses forever,” said John Reece.
When staff rejected the company’s offer, INEOS announced it intended to close down the gas cracker, which had been processing oil and gas from the North Sea for more than 50 years.
“We knew it was a political hot potato, but we were all set to do it,” said John. “It wasn’t a bluff.”
The move stunned the union, which went on to accept all the changes needed to secure the £300 million investment.
“I was quite surprised at the speed of the u-turn,” said Declan Sealy, Business Director INEOS Acetyls. “It was extraordinary.”
Today, the site, once on the verge of extinction, has undergone a renaissance.
And the huge gas tank, which was built to store US shale gas, now stands as a symbol of hope.