Backing into the limelight

It's a rare occurrence for us to put someone on the cover of MT whom few will know or recognise. But part of the pleasure of our annual Top 100 Entrepreneurs list is that we often discover a businessperson who has been quietly going about building a substantial enterprise. This year is no exception. In the top slot sits Peter Cullum of Towergate - Europe's largest independently owned insurance organisation.

by Matthew Gwyther, mt editor
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Now you may think that insurance is a bit of a well-worn furrow, short on excitement. But Philip Beresford, who compiles MT's Top 100 (as well as his other little sideline, The Sunday Times Rich List), estimates Cullum's personal wealth at a cool £1.7bn. It's double the pot of last year's winner, Peter Cruddas, of internet securities dealer CMC. It's nice to know Cullum has his priorities right, though. No 24/7 burning of the midnight oil down in Maidstone as he calculates premiums on pubs and clubs - just after he posed for our photographer, Cullum was off for a decent rest in the Caribbean. Let's hope, for his sake, he doesn't bump into Michael Winner.

One of the other trends we have noted in this year's list is a resurgence in middle-English manufacturing - what Beresford refers to excitedly as 'Midlands metal-bashing'. A number of these individuals have ridden the huge increase in demand for metals caused by the explosive growth of the Chinese and Indian economies. Those making brass from brass are studiously low-profile, though. Trying to talk to them about their success is well nigh impossible - one demanded a charitable donation of £5,000. I thought that sort of behaviour was restricted to footballers and D-list celebs.

My deputy has been down to Hayes to profile the UK & Ireland boss of Heinz, a company that has endured a rough few years. Way back in the '80s, I spent a week as a kid reporter trailing around after a Heinz travelling salesman - a then endangered (and now extinct) species, so the headline was, predictably, 'Death of a Salesman'. He was a delightful Heinz lifer. Despite all his difficulties shifting product, he maintained a song in his heart and a Ford Escort boot filled with sample jars of baby food and a dubious new product called Spagheroni. Much to his sorrow, he was no longer allowed to sell direct to supermarkets and the highlight of the trip was the pair of us being chased out of a Sainsbury's in Macclesfield. No room for sentiment in UK retail, then or now.

Heads down and forward into 2008...

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