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Randox: the next test for the UK government’s favourite diagnostics firm



In a warehouse so vast it once housed torpedoes during the second world war, Randox marshalled its troops of testers to detect Covid-19 across the UK. Like wars, pandemics spur innovation and the Northern Irish diagnostics company adapted quickly. Within weeks of the outbreak, it created a test, rapidly scaled up in a time of shortage by making its own chemicals and machines, and developed robots to get tests done faster.

Along the way, Randox became one of the so-called winners of the pandemic, making a fortune and increasing its brand recognition. While its work was key in the country’s fight against Covid, it also came under scrutiny for its links to the UK government as concerns were raised about the procurement process.

Now the need for testing is easing, Randox intends to use the hundreds of millions of pounds it made in the pandemic for a new purpose: giving people control over their own health tests.

Peter Fitzgerald, a scientist, founded the company 40 years ago, leading Randox as it outgrew its original office in a former chicken shed. The company expanded to distribute its products to test for everything from diabetes to infectious diseases in more than 145 countries, before investing in novel diagnostics.

Unhappy with the UK’s approach to testing, Fitzgerald long dreamt of transforming healthcare by screening asymptomatic people to identify latent medical problems. Testing is essential, he says, to really understand what’s going on inside the body.

Peter Fitzgerald at the Randox Science Park in Antrim, Northern Ireland. He founded the company 40 years ago © Charles McQuillan/FT

While the second world war proved the power of the public sector, making the case for a national health service, the pandemic pushed the government towards private providers for testing and extra hospital beds. As the public health service struggles to clear a record backlog, more patients are opting for private care — and Randox hopes more people will want help to spot early signs of illness.

Randox always had a plan to expand its health clinics. But it had far less money to fund its ambitions, making a loss of £12.5mn in the 18 months ending in June 2020, and a profit of £167,000 in the period before that. After winning 22 government testing contracts totalling £469mn, plus revenues from its private Covid testing business, Randox generated a pre-tax profit of £275mn in the year to June 2021.

Politicians and rivals questioned whether Randox had won Covid testing contracts fairly, raising eyebrows at the company paying Owen Paterson, then a Conservative MP, £100,000 a year as a consultant. Investigations into the government’s contracts with Randox cleared the company of any wrongdoing.

Chart showing that Britons now fork out almost as much as Americans on out-of-pocket healthcare spending

The situation, coupled with the company’s huge increase in revenue, led to accusations that Randox profiteered from the pandemic. It is something the company denies, defending its testing supply as efficient and cost-effective. Moving ownership of the group offshore to an Isle of Man holding company added further fuel to the debate, though the company says the process began in 2019 and both Randox and Fitzgerald remain tax resident in the UK.

Fitzgerald says he is “very happy” with the company’s moral and ethical decisions, and that Paterson played no role in their winning contracts. “Some people read below the headlines, and our sales increased,” he adds. “People seemed to think, well they are supposedly well-connected, they must be all right.” 

Brewing storms

It was Saturday January 26 2020, when Fitzgerald says his son showed him a news report of the Chinese government stepping up its response to the novel coronavirus. The following day, Fitzgerald sent his scientists into the lab to develop a test. Randox says Paterson asked the government for a virus sample to check the test but, in the end, procured one itself.

A couple of weeks later, Randox emailed the UK department of health to pitch its new Covid diagnostic. Mark Campbell, the company’s senior manager, says it was unclear whether the government would do all the testing itself or enlist the help of private providers. “We were just doing what we felt was right given the circumstances,” he adds.

When Randox signed its first contract in March 2020, the NHS was conducting about 5,000 PCR tests a day. By September, the company had scaled up to 150,000 tests a day but, Campbell says, it had capacity for up to 500,000. In total, Randox carried out 17.5mn tests for the government — detecting 1mn patients with Covid — while also testing for private employers including Facebook and Rolls-Royce, as well as travel testing for border entry requirements.

The company moved fast: early on, it put in a three-month order for pipette tips that are crucial for PCR testing. The size of the order was the equivalent of the world’s supply in a normal year. The National Audit Office report said Randox also needed government help to procure equipment in short supply. The company says this was a temporary loan of unused PCR equipment from universities until its own orders arrived.

Randox laboratories in Antrim
Randox laboratories in Antrim. The company has become one of the so-called winners of the pandemic, making a fortune and increasing its brand recognition

Rival private labs were disgruntled that Randox won not just the initial contract, but another one in October, when they felt equally prepared to meet the challenge. Ultimately, the government struck contracts with 10 other private testing providers.

Some in the NHS believe an opportunity was missed to invest in the public sector. Allan Wilson, who in 2020 was president of the Institute for Biomedical Science, the professional body for lab scientists, says contracts were awarded without consulting the NHS on how it would have scaled up testing.

“What do you do with these large labs that are basically no longer required?” he asks. “The NHS may have been able to utilise some of those resources for NHS testing.”

Fitzgerald says the NHS is too fragmented to meet the demand and had to focus on looking after Covid patients, as well as its regular blood testing. “I suspect [the Department of Health] did the right thing to set up labs and engage whatever private sectors could respond,” he adds. “We did investment ourselves. We weren’t getting investment from anybody else to do it.” 

The NAO found no evidence that the contracts were awarded improperly and said the urgency during the first wave of the pandemic made it necessary to sidestep the normal tendering process.

But the House of Commons public accounts committee, which monitors public spending, concluded that the UK government’s “woefully inadequate record-keeping” means it is “impossible to have confidence” that the contracts were won fairly. It also raised concerns that the government did not do enough to ensure Randox was not making excess profits.

An advertisement for Randox Covid-19 testing services is seen in an underground station in November last year in London, England
Randox always had a plan to expand its health clinics © Leon Neal/Getty Images

Fitzgerald felt the criticism from the press and politicians was unfair. “We knew there were things going on we had no control of and we knew there was fighting within the government. There were different factions, there was the public-private thing . . . but we had no influence on them. So all we did was . . . be better than everybody else,” he says.

It was a situation with “no rule book to go to [and] no blueprint”, adds Campbell. “They were asking us to set up something that’s never been set up before,” he says. “I don’t know what due diligence you do apart from looking at the organisation, meeting the people, and having a belief that they have the passion to drive it through.” 

The Department of Health and Social Care said the government “rightly took every possible step to rapidly build the largest testing industry in UK history from scratch” and that Randox, and others, made a “significant contribution”.

“Our Covid testing programme drew on expertise from right across the public and private sectors to get the appropriate skills, equipment and logistics in place as quickly as possible,” it added.

Randox is aiming for 20 high street clinics by the end of the year © Suzanne Plunkett/Alamy

‘Health is wealth’

The next stage of Randox’s expansion can be seen in its bold advertisements across the London Underground, proclaiming that its test packages offer customers the “power to extend your life”. 

“One in five funerals that you go to is unnecessary. That’s very striking,” Campbell says, citing UK figures on avoidable mortality, defined by the ONS as deaths from causes that can be prevented or treated with timely and effective healthcare or public health interventions. Randox also cites research that shows early detection of conditions including cancer and diabetes saves lives and cuts healthcare costs.

From the early 2000s, Randox invested about £450mn in developing a biochip — the size of a piece of Lego — which can rapidly process a range of tests from a small blood sample. But they found introducing new tests to the NHS was complex and time-consuming, with doctors tending to stick to a small slice of what their technology could do — and only testing people with symptoms.

“We felt like we would develop all these fantastic tests that could save lives,” says Campbell. “Yet, they were not being utilised.”

So the company launched its first health clinic in 2008 and gambled on consumers paying for the information themselves. The clinic — next to a petrol station in Crumlin, near their headquarters in Northern Ireland — was popular with the local community but a second branch just 35 miles away, where the Randox brand was unknown, did not do as well.

Then in 2012, it opened in the City of London, where Fitzgerald assumed the “well heeled” would be likely customers but quickly realised they were content with private healthcare benefits provided by their employers. Instead, it was a hit with “small business owners and builders, farmers, people who are restaurant owners, people who have to be healthy to survive,” he says.

Now the company is aiming for 20 high street clinics by the end of the year, with plans to open more in Europe, the US and Australia. The clinics offer full body health checks ranging from £199 for athletes to track more than 80 results, to a £2,600 “signature” package with 350 data points and a GP consultation, as well as follow-ups.

Randox sponsors the Grand National horse race, handled the Covid testing for Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics, and has partnered with reality TV stars such as Made in Chelsea’s Tristan Phipps whose Instagram shows him attending a clinic and exclaiming: “Health is wealth!”

This is part of a broader push towards preventive care, with companies trying to engage users in monitoring their health, from using Apple Watches to detect cardiac conditions, to clinical trials of blood tests designed to capture the earliest signs of cancer.

Randox says it is investing all of its pandemic profits in research and development, infrastructure for diagnostics programmes, and its clinics. It is building a 50,000 square foot research facility near its County Antrim headquarters, and opening an institute in London’s Fitzroy Square, specialising in immune-related conditions.

The newly opened Randox clinic in Great Portland Street clinic, London
The newly opened Randox clinic in Great Portland Street clinic, London

While the aim of business is “to make money”, Fitzgerald says, “it’s what you do with it” that is important.

But tests alone can’t extend lives unless they lead to treatments — and Randox admits that integrating its health reports into the NHS is a daily preoccupation. So far, it is mostly private GPs and hospitals that will consider the Randox reports. “Increasingly, the NHS is recognising it but it is still slow,” Fitzgerald says.

Creeping privatisation

Critics are concerned that private testing providers like Randox end up hurting, rather than helping, the health service. They fear the “worried well” will pile pressure on overstretched GPs, or that patients could jump the queue for treatment after getting a private test, exacerbating inequalities in the system.

The NHS doesn’t just look at whether a particular test works, it examines whether it is useful and leads to treatments, for example, and delivers reliable results. It is investing £2.3bn to expand testing, increasing the number of diagnostics centres to 160 by 2025. But beyond existing programmes such as those for smear tests and colonoscopies, it is firmly focused on people with symptoms.

Carl Heneghan, director of the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, says when screening — testing the asymptomatic — there is a “very clear requirement for a high-quality evidence base to show that the benefits outweigh the harms”. 

“Often people take tests with the sort of belief system that surely it is better for me to know [there is something wrong] than not know,” he says. The problem comes, he explains, when they get an abnormal result and there are no clear next steps: “In an awful lot of disease that is detected, there is no actual benefit and no reduction in mortality.”

Heneghan also worries that marketing from companies like Randox can induce anxiety. “We’re coming out of the Covid pandemic that was all about fear, and there’s a sense that you can play on that,” he says. Randox denies this, saying it wants to enable people to lead healthier, longer lives.

The facility at the Randox Science Park in County Antrim which was dedicated to Covid-19  testing and support
The facility at the Randox Science Park in County Antrim was dedicated to Covid-19 testing and support

Others are concerned that opening the door to private providers during the pandemic accelerated a transfer of more healthcare funding to the private sector. Allyson Pollock, a clinical professor of public health at Newcastle University, says the pandemic has been “very useful cover” for the increasing power of private providers. “We use a crisis to privatise and outsource, and then carry on outsourcing. It’s quite tragic,” she says.

While Randox currently provides testing materials to NHS labs, it is not doing any work on its behalf. But it is likely to benefit from a trend of more Britons paying for healthcare. A poll from March by the Institute for Public Policy Research, a progressive think-tank, showed one in eight patients had used a private practice as they struggled to access the NHS during the pandemic, and one in five had considered doing so.

Parth Patel, a senior research fellow at IPPR and an NHS doctor, says neither the government nor the two contenders to be the next prime minister, Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak, are talking enough about the crisis in the NHS. “To some extent, [their] inaction is action,” he adds. “There isn’t an ideological opposition to this two-tier system.

“We basically privatised Covid testing through the pandemic instead of expanding our own lab capacity,” he says. “Companies made loads of money out of it, when the NHS could have used it to open even more diagnostic centres. That capacity should actually be part of the NHS, whether the NHS is contracting Randox to do it or not.”

One of the drivers of Randox’s success is the freedom to spend its resources as it likes. As a private company, Randox is under no pressure to justify its spending, says Fitzgerald, and when Covid broke out, it already had skilled technologists who could create systems to deliver test results online and automate the labs.

Fitzgerald is not sure of the demand for health tests but, after 40 years in the diagnostics business, he is unlikely to give up. “We think it’s a growing market but we don’t truly know,” he says. “It will gather momentum . . . but it might take a wee bit of pushing.”

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Sister Patricia Daly, 66, Dies; Took On Corporate Giants on Social Justice



For years, Sister Pat and other environmentalists had urged ExxonMobil to take significant steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from its operations and products. In 2007, she proposed a resolution that called on that energy giant to set a firm date to report on its progress.

“We’re the most profitable company in the history of the planet,” she told Rex Tillerson, then the company’s chief executive (and later secretary of state in the Trump administration), at the company’s annual meeting, “but what will be our long-term health when we are really faced with the regulatory and other challenges around global warming?”

She added: “We are now, this company and every single one of us, challenged by one of the most profound moral concerns. And we have the wherewithal to respond to that.”

The proposal won 31 percent of the ballots, or about 1.4 billion shares, the largest tally for an ExxonMobil climate-change resolution. If not an outright victory, it was a page in a decades-long narrative that led ExxonMobil to put a climate scientist on its board in 2017. Three executives who recognized the urgency to address climate change joined the company’s board in 2021, nominated by a tiny activist hedge fund, Engine No. 1.

“The arc of her work led us to those victories by working from the inside and the outside,” John Passacantando, the founder of Ozone Action, an anti-global warming group, and a former executive director of Greenpeace, said in a phone interview.

In 1999, Vanity Fair named her to its Hall of Fame, applauding her as one who “translates belief into commitment and never backs down from a fight.”

Mary Beth Gallagher, who replaced Sister Pat as executive director of the Tri-State Coalition in 2017, said Sister Pat had not become frustrated when her resolutions were routinely voted down.

“She lived in hope,” Ms. Gallagher said. “We never talked about winning or losing. It was about raising consciousness and educating. If we’re not asking these questions, who will?”

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Families can make a tax-free rollover from 529 plans to Roth individual retirement accounts starting in 2024



Maskot | Maskot | Getty Images

Americans who save for college in 529 plans will soon have a way to rescue unused funds while keeping their tax benefits intact.

A $1.7 trillion government funding package has a provision that lets savers roll money from 529 plans to Roth individual retirement accounts free of income tax or tax penalties.

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The House passed the measure Friday and the Senate did so Thursday. The bill heads to President Biden, who’s expected to sign it into law.

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The rollover measure — which takes effect in 2024 — has some limitations. Among the largest: There’s a $35,000 lifetime cap on transfers.

“It’s a good provision for people who have [529 accounts] and the money hasn’t been used,” said Ed Slott, a certified public accountant and IRA expert based in Rockville Centre, New York.

That might happen if a beneficiary — such as a child or grandchild — doesn’t attend a college, university, vocational or private K-12 school, or other qualifying institution, for example. Or, a student may receive scholarships that mean some 529 funds are left over.

Millions of 529 accounts hold billions in savings

There were nearly 15 million 529 accounts at the end of last year, holding a total $480 billion, according to the Investment Company Institute. That’s an average of about $30,600 per account.

529 plans carry tax advantages for college savers. Namely, investment earnings on account contributions grow tax-free and aren’t taxable if used for qualifying education expenses like tuition, fees, books, and room and board.

Retirement plan changes in the omnibus spending bill

However, that investment growth is generally subject to income tax and a 10% tax penalty if used for an ineligible expense.

This is where rollovers to a Roth IRA can benefit savers with stranded 529 money. A transfer would skirt income tax and penalties; investments would keep growing tax-free in a Roth account, and future retirement withdrawals would also be tax-free.  

Some think it’s a handout for the rich

However, some critics think the rollover policy largely amounts to a tax handout to wealthier families.

“You’re giving savings incentives to those who can save and leaving behind those who cannot save,” said Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

A 2012 analysis conducted by the Government Accountability Office found the typical American with a 529 account had “much more wealth” than someone without: $413,500 in total wealth for the median person, about 25 times the amount of a non-accountholder.

You’re giving savings incentives to those who can save and leaving behind those who cannot save.

Steve Rosenthal

senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

Further, the typical owner had a roughly $142,000 annual income versus $45,000 for other families, the GAO report said. Almost half, 47%, had incomes over $150,000.

The new 529-to-Roth IRA transfer provision doesn’t carry income limits.

Limitations on 529-to-IRA transfers

While the new tax break primarily benefits wealthier families, there are “pretty significant” limitations on the rollovers that reduce the financial benefit, Jeffrey Levine, a certified financial planner and certified public accountant based in St. Louis, said in a tweet.

The restrictions include:

  • A $35,000 lifetime cap on transfers.
  • Rollovers are subject to the annual Roth IRA contribution limit. (The limit is $6,500 in 2023.)
  • The rollover can only be made to the beneficiary’s Roth IRA — not that of the account owner. (In other words, a 529 owned by a parent with the child as beneficiary would need to be rolled into the child’s IRA, not the parent’s.)
  • The 529 account must have been open for at least 15 years. (It seems changing account beneficiaries may restart that 15-year clock, Levine said.)
  • Accountholders can’t roll over contributions, or earnings on those contributions, made in the last five years.

In a summary document, the Senate Finance Committee said current 529 tax rules have “led to hesitating, delaying, or declining to fund 529s to levels needed to pay for the rising costs of education.”

“Families who sacrifice and save in 529 accounts should not be punished with tax and penalty years later if the beneficiary has found an alternative way to pay for their education,” it said.

Are 529 plans already flexible enough?

Some education savings experts think 529 accounts have adequate flexibility so as not to deter families from using them.

For example, owners with leftover account funds can change beneficiaries to another qualifying family member — thereby helping avoid a tax penalty for non-qualified withdrawals. Aside from a kid or grandkid, that family member might be you; a spouse; a son, daughter, brother, sister, father or mother-in-law; sibling or step-sibling; first cousin or their spouse; a niece, nephew or their spouse; or aunt and uncle, among others.

Owners can also keep funds in an account for a beneficiary’s graduate schooling or the education of a future grandchild, according to Savingforcollege.com. Funds can also be used to make up to $10,000 of student loan payments.

The tax penalty may also not be quite as bad as some think, according to education expert Mark Kantrowitz. For example, taxes are assessed at the beneficiary’s income-tax rate, which is generally lower than the parent’s tax rate by at least 10 percentage points.

In that case, the parent “is no worse off than they would have been had they saved in a taxable account,” depending on their tax rates on long-term capital gains, he said.

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Goldman grumbling grows for banking giant to sack CEO David Solomon



The knives are out for Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, and this time the people brandishing them aren’t the usual suspects — his junior staffers annoyed that they have to work late or come into the office several times a week.

Solomon’s problems are more serious and existential, I am told, and how he handles what can best be described as a revolt in some quarters of Goldman’s middle and upper management ranks could determine how much longer he stays in his job.

Solomon, 60, took the job in 2018 and was always somewhat of an odd choice to run the white-shoe investment bank that usually cultivated its leaders from within. He cut his teeth at a decidedly un-Goldman-like venue: the scrappy investment bank Bear Stearns (ultimately one of the causalities of the 2008 financial crisis).

He joined Goldman in 1999, as a partner, no less, because his deal-making chops allowed him to skip layers of management.

In other words, Solomon is an outsider at a firm with a wickedly insular culture. He has a quirky side gig as a DJ in the summer Hamptons party circuit. He’s also not one for small talk, and doesn’t consult with a lot of people before handing down his edicts. 

“He doesn’t breed a lot of love,” said one former Goldman executive who knows Solomon well.

Lots of people at Goldman don’t like him, and they’re letting their views be heard both internally and with pals at rival firms.

Solomon as a DJ
Solomon is an outsider at a firm with a wickedly insular culture.
David Solomon/Instagram

For the record: I’ve met Solomon and like him for his no-BS style. And until pretty recently, the numbers show him doing a great job. Goldman was running on all cylinders in deals and trading. Even as the market corrects, shares are up about 60% since Solomon took over as CEO in 2018 compared to around a 44% rise in the S&P during that time.

Goldman is still the top M&A shop, even widening its market share over rivals in that important business line. Solomon was the first among his fellow CEOs to see the downturn and enact significant layoffs to cut costs.

Still, the grumbling about Solomon is spreading to the managing director and partner class. High-priced Wall Street talent don’t call all the shots at any firm, of course. But Goldman’s MDs and partners have historically been a powerful force when the board decides the fate of current management, which makes Solomon’s hold on his job increasingly precarious as more and more of them defect from his camp.

David Solomon as a DJ
Solomon was the first among his fellow CEOs to see the downturn and enact significant layoffs to cut costs.
David Solomon/Instagram

Here’s how they’re building a case against him: Goldman’s longtime archrival investment bank Morgan Stanley now easily dwarfs Goldman in market value, $144 billion to $116 billion, continuing a trend that predates Solomon. That comes amid a slowdown in banking deals, Goldman’s bread-and-butter business, and Solomon’s home turf.

Morgan’s CEO James Gorman deftly expanded the firm’s wealth management operations, which provide steady revenues. Solomon’s effort to diversify was an overindulgence in something called Marcus, a digital retail bank launched by his predecessor Lloyd Bankfein that Solomon made his baby. So far, it’s been a disaster, so much so that Solomon has been forced to scale back, possibly on the way to winding it down.

Goldman, meanwhile, has missed targets in its recent earnings announcements, and more downward surprises could be in store as markets continue to wobble. Bonuses are down, in some places cut in half, albeit from the nosebleed levels of 2021.

Goldman Sachs headquarters
The grumbling about Solomon is spreading to the managing director and partner class.
AFP via Getty Images

Traders did well in 2022 because Goldman’s are particularly adept in profiting off turbulence, but part of their pool is being diverted to bankers to keep them in-house until the deal slowdown ends.

Since Solomon is a banker, he’s also being accused of favoritism, which in truth is a pretty lame charge, since bankers often subsidize trader bonuses when the markets aren’t profitable. Still, the Goldman trading department is powerful and can spark management change, as it has done in the past.

There’s also a question about Solomon’s allegiance to Goldman’s stand-alone culture. In its 153-year existence, Goldman has operated on the assumption that it would be the acquirer in any major strategic acquisition. Solomon’s experience at Bear, then one of the most transactional places on Wall Street, means he could be looking for a deal and not one that keeps Goldman in charge.

Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman deftly expanded the firm’s wealth management operations, which provide steady revenues.
Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman deftly expanded the firm’s wealth management operations, which provide steady revenues.
AFP via Getty Images

At a time when most Goldman insiders believe he needs to do a “transformational deal,” i.e., something big that allows it to better compete against Morgan Stanley and super banks like JP Morgan, there is speculation that Solomon might allow Goldman to be swallowed whole by, say, a big asset manager or bank if the price was right.

As best I can tell, this grumbling, though real, doesn’t immediately threaten Solomon’s job. Then again, there is something to be said for keeping your producers happy.

Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, was a notorious screamer and demanding beyond belief. Yet Welch knew how to nurture his people.

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch
Jack Welch was a notorious screamer and demanding beyond belief. Yet Welch knew how to nurture his people.
Getty Images

“Jack could chew your ass, then put his arm around you and make you feel great,” one of his longtime executives, Bob Nardelli, once told me.

It’s why so many other talented execs chose to stay around under Welch, abuse and all, and left when his successor took over, watching GE implode from the outside.

Maybe it’s a good time for Solomon to take a page from Welch and start hugging it out.

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