1. JIM RATCLIFFE, INEOS GROUP
Jim Ratcliffe is the chemical industry's answer to acquisitive steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, a man who has taken it on himself to create a manufacturing empire by buying up the leftovers of those before him. From his base in the New Forest, the low-key Ratcliffe runs Ineos Group, which has become Britain's second-largest chemicals company and the world's largest producer of a range of industrial chemicals, including chlorine, perchloroehtylene, methylene chloride and hydrochloric acid.
The world suddenly took notice of what Ratcliffe and his team of highly experienced chemical industry executives were up to when Ineos bought BP's Innovene chemical division for £5bn in October 2004. Ratcliffe had no difficulty persuading the City's finest - including Barclays Capital, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley - to underwrite the cash offer. A quiet family man, Ratcliffe now heads a group employing 15,500 people in 14 countries, with sales of £18bn and profits running close to £1bn.
Snagging Innovene was a stunning coup for Ratcliffe, beating as he did the entire private-equity industry to clinch the deal. But he knows that business well, having worked as a director of Advent International (Boston) from 1987 to 1992. Before that, he spent 15 years in accounting, marketing, and business management at Esso Petroleum and Courtaulds.
In 1992, he left Advent and, together with Dr John Hollowood, led the management buyout of BP's speciality chemicals division, which became Inspec. This floated on the stock market in 1994, and four years later was taken over in a £611m deal by Laporte. Ratcliffe had left by then, but his remaining shares and options were worth £28m at the time.
Armed with this windfall, in 1998 he led the £90.5m acquisition of Ineos Group from Inspec. A series of bold takeovers followed, including chunks of chemical giants ICI, Dow and Degussa. Ineos has purchased most of its assets in auctions, where the main competition often comes from private-equity companies - which Ratcliffe believes has helped his cause.
'We've found greater receptiveness from sellers because we're not a private-equity capital company,' he says. 'Chemical companies are more comfortable dealing with us than with accountants from the private-equity sector, who are a different breed of people.'
Even before the recent transforming BP deal, Ineos made a healthy £149m profit on sales of £2.3bn. Ratcliffe has a 67% stake.
2. PATRICK MCKENNA, INGENIOUS MEDIA
Profits are roaring ahead at Ingenious Media, the entertainment consultancy founded by Patrick McKenna in 1998. Ingenious is split into five divisions, covering asset management, corporate finance, consulting, investment and ventures, and makes its money organising finance for film and TV projects.
An accountant by trade, McKenna started out at Deloitte & Touche, where he headed its media and entertainment group, before becoming right-hand man to West End showbiz impresario Lord Lloyd Webber and his Really Useful Group. In 2003-04, Ingenious' profits rose from £18m to £25m on sales of £43m - a juicy margin of nearly 60%.
McKenna's coups have included co-brokering Robbie Williams' record deal with EMI, reputedly worth £80m, and advising Victoria Beckham on her career.
He has also invested in pop svengali Simon Fuller's company, 19, which produces the Pop Idol TV shows, and has advised on the flotation of RDF Media and on a £23m deal for Hat Trick, producer of Have I Got News For You.
McKenna's latest plan is to invest £110m in the movies, defying the gloom that has pervaded the British film industry since the revision of supportive tax breaks. The films he is backing range from X-Men 3 (whose studio, Fox, is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp) to Woody Allen's next British movie (as yet untitled), to be produced by BBC Films. In 2003, the generous McKenna stunned the audience at a gala fund-raiser for London's Young Vic theatre by handing over a £1m donation.
3. SIMON NIXON, MONEYSUPERMARKET.COM
Personal finance product and information website Moneysupermarket.com is one of the real success stories of the British internet business. The Chester-based firm's profits rocketed from £2.4m to £15.9m on sales of nearly £60m in 2004, although it hasn't all been plain sailing. In July, plans for a stock market float were quietly postponed, following the savaging of recent issues such as Virgin Mobile. But it is looking to try again next year, with a £500m price tag.
Not that university drop-out Simon Nixon - who co-founded the business - needs the cash just yet. In 2004, he picked up a useful £5m in dividends to tide him over. As a financial adviser, he started a service called Mortgage 2000, providing brokers with weekly updates on available mortgages, later to become a trade magazine, Broker Update. The explosive growth of the internet led him - alongside Duncan Cameron, brother of his then girlfriend - to set up a comparison website for consumers on mortgages, credit cards, personal loans and savings accounts.
Moneysupermarket.com proved a phenomenal success, attracting about three million visitors a month, and leading to a spin-off travel site, called, naturally, travelsupermarket.com.
Nixon expects the results for 2005 to be even better than the 2004 figures.
'We want to grow revenues by at least 50% year-on-year. As you get bigger, this becomes more difficult.'
The company is, he adds, spending a lot of time and resources refining and diversifying its travel portal - 'the fastest growing part of our business'. Despite his now considerable fortune, Nixon remains close with his money. He bakes his own bread, and although he loves Ferraris, refuses to own more than one. 'I'm dead tight and I hate paying tax and insurance on two cars,' he says.
4. PETER CRUDDAS, CMC GROUP
Business is booming at CMC Group, the London-based spread-betting and foreign exchange financial specialist. Bankers are pressing for a float, and although founder and owner Peter Cruddas will have the final say, a spring 2006 debut at a value of £800m-£900m could be on the cards. With CMC's strong presence in Europe and Asia - including an office in China - the profits are pouring in.
If it moves, Cruddas will trade it - apart from old-fashioned sports betting, which he leaves to others. Equities, indices, derivatives, commodities, oil, currencies - such instruments are his metier, and CMC is also an online market-maker through Deal4free.com, the private investor share service it owns.
Cruddas employs some very bright computer people, who have helped build the software that gives CMC a competitive edge on pricing - software that is also sold to other financial groups, allowing them to set up their own trading platforms and providing Cruddas with another lucrative revenue stream.
In the year to March 2006, CMC is looking to make a £48m profit, ample justification for that £800m valuation. Cruaddas owns it all, making him the richest person in the City. Not bad for the son of a Smithfield meat market porter who grew up in the mean streets of the old East End.
5. ANDREW TURNER, CENTRAL TRUST
From a small London office, accountant Andrew Turner set up Central Trust in 1987 as a broker and lender of secured loans in the consumer finance sector. Now based in the charming surroundings of old Norwich, the business is growing fast, with another 220 jobs set to be created over the next two years.
Central Trust's principal subsidiary is one of the nation's largest independent finance brokers, offering personal loans to homeowners, while other subsidiaries operate in the loan packaging, mortgage packaging and telemarketing arenas.
Central Trust profits and sales have surged on the coat-tails of the consumer boom of recent years - in 2004, it made £26.8m profit on sales of £67.2m.
Turner recently rolled out a new state-of-the art computer system, which he reckons will give Central Trust a hefty competitive advantage. It will need to - Turner's stated ambition is to make the company (which he owns in its entirety) Britain's leading independent supplier of personal finance products. It's a big target, but few would bet against this low-key high achiever pulling it off.
6. TERRY SMITH, COLLINS STEWART TULLETT
The son of an East End bus driver, Terry Smith is well known in the City as the combative chief executive of the Collins Stewart Tullett stockbroking operation. A boxing aficionado, Smith first came to prominence as a City analyst for his controversial 1992 book Accounting for Growth, which revealed many of the tricks and dodges that companies use to massage their figures.
Smith, who lives in Chelmsford, Essex, led a £122m management buyout of Collins Stewart in May 2000. Floated on the stock market shortly afterwards, the company has grown rapidly since via a series of takeovers and by moving into new markets.
This year, it became a takeover target itself, with rumours of interest from several private-equity firms - including leading US outfit Kohlberg Kravis Roberts - pushing the share price to well over £6. But in November all talks were called to a halt, apparently because agreement could not be reached over a valuation for the firm. Smith is now said to be looking at alternative ways of delivering value to shareholders.
7. DAVID BEACH, BEACH CAPITAL MANAGEMENT
A highly successful fund manager, David Beach set up his own business in 1998 after perfecting his skills at GNI Fund Management, now part of the Old Mutual Group. Now chief investment officer of the company, he prides himself on a rigorous investment model, based on spotting and exploiting the patterns found in 35 years of trading data. It seems to work, producing annual returns averaging 19%.
As a result, in 2003-04, Beach Capital profits soared to £40.2m on £53m sales, which makes life a beach for Beach and his wife, who between them own the firm lock, stock and barrel. In November, Beach's long-standing right-hand man Michael Hitchcox moved up from head of trading to CEO.
8. TREVOR HEMMINGS, NORTHERN TRUST
Pubs and property are where Trevor Hemmings made his money, although the Lancashire-based tycoon shows a keen financial interest in sporting endeavour. He has a 28% stake in football club Preston North End and a small piece of Charlton Athletic. He also owns a successful stable of 46 racehorses, including last year's Grand National winner, Hedgehunter.
But above all, Hemmings has grand ambitions for his beloved Blackpool - of which he owns a substantial chunk, including the Tower and all three piers. If all goes to plan, he will transform the city - already one of the most successful entertainment resorts in Europe - into a vast gaming and casino centre in the manner of Atlantic City in New Jersey. Success would put him well on the way to billionaire status, but everything hinges on the outcome of the recent Gaming Review by the Government.
Hemmings' secret is simple. 'I was always self-motivated about work,' he said recently. 'At 12, I used to take a greengrocer's horse and cart round the area.' After a bricklaying apprenticeship in Leyland, Lancs, he started his own building business with £12. 'When I married at 20, we moved into a prefab. I kept promising we'd move into the next house I did up, but someone would want to buy it and I could never resist.'
With immaculate timing, Hemmings sold the building firm in the early 1970s for £1.5m, just before the collapse of the property market. He never looked back, moving into business after business, and always showing a canny eye for a profit.
Blackpool Tower cost him £74m in 1998, and two years later he bought Littlewoods' pools operation from Liverpudlian grandees, the Moores family, for £161m. Less public has been his snapping up of stakes in quoted companies through his two main vehicles, Guild Ventures and Rumney Manor. Between them, they have stakes in nine firms and are worth more than £238m, the main holding being the near-£163m stake in Scottish & Newcastle. The holding in Preston is worth about £1m and Charlton just £56,000.
Hemmings' own company, the Northern Trust Group (formerly TJH Group), showed £12.4m profit on £102.9m sales in 2003-04, when its net assets rose to £106.5m. His pub estate is worth £100m, and he is also involved in property development stretching from Exeter to Manchester.
9. BEN WHITE, MESSAGELABS
Ben White began his career selling life insurance and pensions as a broker.
But the spirit of enterprise was strong within him, and in 1993 he co-founded IT businesss RBR Network. It went on to become the largest Cisco distributor in Europe, with annual revenues exceeding £100m. In 1998, at the height of the dot.com boom, RBR sold for £40m.
A serial entrepreneur, White next turned his attention to building Star Internet, then to MessageLabs and, ultimately, the MessageLabs group, creating one of the largest privately owned technology groups in the UK today.
Gloucester-based MessageLabs scans more than a billion e-mails a week (as well as other types of web traffic) for viruses, spam and unwanted content.
It also provides network services and managed hosting services, and establishes secure e-mail networks. IBM and MCI now recommend MessageLabs' services to their users, and the firm's 12,000 global customers include ICI and the Government.
10. JUDY CRAYMER, LITTLESTAR SERVICES
Profits at Littlestar Productions soared to more than £11m on sales of £23.1m in 2003-04, as new productions of the Abba musical Mamma Mia! opened on Broadway and in Stockholm.
The runaway success of this musical is a triumph for the impresario behind it, Judy Craymer. The first woman to make it into the top 10 of MT's entrepreneurs ranking, Craymer's West End credentials are impressive. She learnt her trade working for two of the best in the business, Cameron Mackintosh and Tim Rice. While working for Rice's production company, she became executive producer on another smash hit musical, Chess.
She went on to build a successful career in TV and film, producing Yorkshire TV's Neville's Island comedy drama in 1998. Convinced of the potential of an Abba musical, she sold her flat to finance the production and sunk every penny she possessed into it. The gamble paid off - the show opened in 1999, and five years later Mamma Mia! had grossed $750m from 11 productions worldwide.