Britain's Top 100 Entrepreneurs 2007: Money talks

MT's annual ranking of the UK's most prolific business creators this year reflects the energy of City dealmaking, but Philip Beresford's research uncovers other pockets of dynamism too.

by Philip Beresford
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

With the City of London roaring ahead, the financial services sector dominates this year's MT ranking of the Top 100 British entrepreneurs. This is the fourth MT 100 but the first in which a single industry has dominated the upper reaches. Four of our top five entrepreneurs run financial services businesses in areas such as broking, investment management and financial trading.

Peter Cruddas (pictured), who heads this year's MT 100 as Entrepreneur of the Year, is typical of the new breed of financier-entrepreneur that has emerged in the City since the Big Bang swept away the ancien regime of blue-blooded privilege 20 years ago. From a modest background, Cruddas left Shoreditch Comprehensive School in London's East End at 15 to help support his family. His mother was a cleaner and his father a porter at London's Smithfield meat market. He started out as a Western Union telex operator, did odd jobs in banks and brokerages, and launched his CMC operation in 1989 with £10,000. With an £800 million flotation in the offing, CMC has enjoyed spectacular growth as a financial trading operation.

The money men and women may dominate the MT 100, but the good news for Britain is that all one hundred of them have played a role in providing new jobs. Over the past five years, they have collectively created more than 56,000 of them, taking their total employment from 53,553 to very nearly 110,000 (more than the British Army). This is a 105% increase over that period, and although it is a slowdown on last year's MT 100 - when the increase in jobs was an unprecedented 130% - it's a very good showing in a year where, outside the City, consumer confidence has waned and unemployment is on the rise.

Virtually all these increases are due to organic growth - not fancy financial engineering and takeovers, which do not generally increase the pool of employment in Britain as a whole. The only real rival to these entrepreneurs in job creation is the public sector. An extra 550,000 public-sector workers have been taken on in the past five years. Our entrepreneurs are at least doing their bit to redress the balance for the private sector.

Employment growth is one of our three criteria in ranking the MT Top 100. Another key indicator is turnover growth. In this regard, the top 100 have raised their game sharply over the past five years, with sales up from £6.9 billion to more than £16.3 billion - a huge amount of economic activity by any standards. At 136%, turnover growth is a lot higher than employment growth - and this may well be one of the reasons for their success in the Top 100.

By keeping their employment growth below the growth in sales, they raise both productivity and their competitive position. A rough-and-ready guide maybe, but no entrepreneur worth his or her salt ignores the head-count.

Our third measure comes from a valuation of their stake in the business and other assets, based on the stock market values (if quoted) or in line with those values if any of the Top 100 run a private company. Such valuations come with many caveats, of course, but serve as a useful indicator. Collectively, the Top 100 are, by our reckoning, worth about £11.1 billion.

Our runner-up Simon Nixon, co-founder of moneysupermarket.com, justifies our faith in him with a high placing for the third year running. His Chester-based firm is now actively looking at a float, which will value it at up to £1 billion. At 39, Nixon is one of the youngest in our top 100. There are 15 who are under 40, a record haul. Youngest are 30-year-old Mark Fitzgerald and, at 28, Thomas O'Donohoe, co-founders of MX Telecom. In the vanguard of wireless technology, they run a business that would have been hard to envisage just a decade ago.

Although 17 of our list are in computer, software, internet and telecoms businesses (the biggest sector, larger even than financial services with nine), the diversity of our Top 100 reflects the strength of Britain's enterprise culture. Fifteen are from industry and 14 from retailing. We also have entrepreneurs in food production, gambling, plant hire and demolition. But we don't have any in property, as our criteria do not fit the world of real estate, which is all about growth in asset values rather than driving up sales or developing employment.

This year, we have a record 24 women in the list, up from 20 last year, and some of them are invading traditional macho territory. Elena Ambrosiadou, for example, one of London's top hedge fund managers, built her business from scratch; and Jane Cavanagh, Britain's most successful computer games entrepreneur, thrives while many of her male rivals struggle.

Britain's burgeoning Asian enterprise culture is highly evident, with five representatives drawn from all over Britain, in industries ranging from food production to ski-wear and currency dealing. But what's missing is any sudden growth in new young entrepreneurs drawn from Muslim backgrounds. It would be encouraging to find many more entrepreneurs drawn from some of the northern and Midlands towns and cities, where they might be seen as role models for disaffected youth in their communities.

The element that unites all our Top 100 - veterans and young 'uns alike - is a demonstrable record of success. But with storm clouds gathering over the world economy, they'll need to draw on all their resilience and experience.

See Related Stories below for profiles of some of the Top 100's key players...

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The MT 100 table in full

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