In the snowstorm of stats that assails us week after week came a largely unnoticed little gem last month. When the Office for National Statistics released employment figures for the past year, it was revealed that the rise in the number of people working for themselves accounted for virtually the entire increase in the workforce in 2003. The number of employees went up by a meagre 9,000 to September, but the number of self-employed people rose by 282,000. Welcome to Enterprise Nation UK, where it looks as though Britain is leading the world in entrepreneurship.

by Matthew Gwyther, mt editor
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

So what a good time to publish our first survey of Britain's Top 100 Entrepreneurs. These people are truly the greenhouse of our economy, nurturing the seeds of business that may grow into the mighty multinationals of tomorrow. Or they may not. For history shows that the founders may have long moved on by then, having passed the baton on to someone else.

The MT Entrepreneurs List comprises a remarkably varied group of people operating in a diverse range of businesses: from recruitment to concrete flooring by way of bras and anti-virus software. The individuals cross the whole spectrum of British 21st-century society - their ages range from 30 to 76, and the good news is that nearly 20% of the 100 are women (we had feared it might be lower).

Pictorially, we have presented these people as they come, not Vanity Fair-style on white horses in couture gear and dripping with stage make-up, but as ordinary people. They are, however, ordinary with a difference. In talking to many of them, we gained a sense of hard, determined grafters without the airs and graces of corporate high office. After the three-day photo session, our photographer Alistair Thain, a man who has snapped dozens of celebs and the rich and powerful, remarked on how civilised and polite all his subjects were.

Our piece's author and researcher Philip Beresford describes himself as a 'gricer', an obscure term for train-spotter. The man behind the celebrated Sunday Times Rich List is indeed the data king of UK plc. We just hope he has all that information properly backed up, because if his systems ever get wiped or virused out it would be a national tragedy.

One thing's for sure, few of our Top 100 are likely to end up working in public service. If you asked them why, they'd think you were pulling their leg. Our feature on those who move from the private sector into public-sector management looks at why public service has had a poor reputation and how things are changing for the better. This was especially interesting for me, as my first job after university was as a civil servant. It nearly drove me round the twist and I bailed out after a year. I'm still some way short of getting into the Top 100, though.

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