Britain's leading entrepreneurs are creating employment as never before. The third annual MT ranking of the Top 100 entrepreneurs shows that over the past five years, they have collectively created nearly 71,000 new jobs, an unprecedented 130% increase. Despite a dip in consumer confidence and rising oil prices, they are the creators of real jobs and real economic activity in terms of growing sales and profits.
Five years ago, our Top 100 employed 54,574 staff. In their latest accounts, that total had risen to 125,573. Virtually all these increases are due to solid organic growth rather than financial engineering or takeovers, neither of which have the same positive impact on the pool of national employment. The only real rival in job creation is the public sector, where an extra 550,000 workers have been taken on in the past five years.
Employment growth is only one of the three ways in which we rank the Top 100, as illustrated in the table on pp34-35. Another key indicator is turnover growth. In this regard, the top 100 have also raised their game sharply in the past five years with sales up from £10.4 billion to more than £24.1 billion - a huge amount of economic activity by any standards.
Nascent economists will already have noted approvingly that at 142%, this growth in turnover is a good deal higher than the overall growth in employment. By keeping their employment growth below growth in sales, our Top 100 are, in effect, improving productivity and strengthening their competitive position.
Our third measure comes from a valuation of our entrepreneurs' stake in their businesses and other assets, based on the stock market values (if quoted), or in line with those values for private companies.
Such valuations, of course, come with many caveats but serve as a rough-and-ready guide. Collectively, the Top 100 are, we reckon, worth about £15.6 billion.
But we have also taken care to look for businesses that are as financially robust as possible. We hate hefty borrowings, and although we concentrate on sales growth as one of our measurements, we also love our entrepreneurs to have steadily increasing profits - and for these to be re-invested, rather than taken out as dividends or fat salaries.
So bearing all that in mind, what sort of people make up our Top 100?
The list is headed this year by Jim Ratcliffe, a low-key Birmingham University graduate, who single-handedly is rebuilding the British chemicals industry, using the same asset-sweating ethos favoured by that other great modern industrialist, Indian-born steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal.
Ratcliffe's Ineos Group, based in the New Forest, has been buying up unloved production capacity from the likes of ICI, Dow and Degussa, and is now Britain's second-largest chemicals business, with employment rising to 15,500 wordwide. Ratcliffe - personally worth more than £1 billion - achieved a rare feat last year, beating the private-equity industry to the punch in snapping up BP's Innovene chemicals business for a whopping £5 billion.
Good though it is to have a 'proper' industrialist at the top of our list, the reality of the modern British economy is evident in the chasing pack. Second comes Patrick McKenna, whose Ingenious Media operation advises on and invests in media and leisure deals. McKenna, who used to work for Lord Lloyd Webber, has been heavily involved in the peer's deliberations on the future of his Really Useful operation. Following McKenna, we have five financial services entrepreneurs, from personal finance web sites to hedge funds and brokers.
One of these is our number three, Simon Nixon, co-founder of credit card and mortgage website moneysupermarket.com, who makes his second appearance in the Top 10. His Chester-based company recently unveiled profits of £15.8 million, a 547% rise in a year, and a float is now a possibility.
At 38, Nixon is one of the 13 entrants aged under 40, but is by no means the youngest - that honour goes to the two founders of mobile phone business MX Telecom, 29-year old Mark Fitzgerald and 27-year-old Thomas O'Donohoe.
But our youngsters are not all tech-heads - Penny Streeter's Ambition operation is thriving, finding staff for care homes and extending the concept into new areas of the market.
Similarly, Christian Rucker's White Company retail mail-order business is successful in another niche where customer service is more important than computer wizardry.
This year, we have 20 women in the list, a slight fall from last year's record of 23. But if they are fewer in number, they make up for it in quality. Judy Craymer is the first woman ever in the Top 10, and many of the rest are succeeding in traditionally very macho territory - for example, Elena Ambrosiadou, one of London's top hedge fund managers, or Jane Cavanagh, Britain's most successful computer games entrepreneur. And after the dreadful events of 7 July in London, it is even more crucial that Britain's thriving community of Asian entrepreneurs continues to grow in strength, providing strong role models for all the nation's young people.
The diversity of MT's Top 100 is its greatest strength, representing as it does the nation's most enterprising individuals regardless of age, creed, nationality or background. The one fact that unites all our Top 100 is their demonstrable record of success.