Britain's Top 100 Entrepreneurs 2007: the Premier League

Our top-notch wealth creators this year are led by five money-meisters, mostly from modest backgrounds. Behind them, though, the field widens...

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013


If it moves, City slicker Peter Cruddas trades it. Equities, indices, derivatives, commodities, oil, currencies - these are CMC's business. The only thing he leaves to others is sport betting. The cash is pouring in, enabling owner and founder Cruddas to take a £31m salary in 2004-05. With offices in Europe and Asia, CMC is a market leader in internet financial spread-betting, contracts for difference and foreign exchange. It is also an online market-maker, and runs a share service for private investors.

Cruddas employs some very bright techies, who have built software that gives CMC a competitive edge on pricing - technology that he now sells to other financial groups. In 2005-06, CMC made £36.7m operating profits, and last summer's delayed flotation is back on track with a valuation of at least £800m.

Yet Cruddas comes from a very modest background - he left Shoreditch Comprehensive School in the East End of London at 15 to help support his family. Mum was a cleaner and dad a Smithfield market meat porter. After starting out as a Western Union telex operator and doing odd jobs in banks and brokerages, he launched CMC in 1989 with his savings of £10,000. Until the flotation, Cruddas has a stake worth around £738m. His past salaries, his Monaco home and other property take him to around £800m.

2. SIMON NIXON (pictured) -

Personal finance information website is one of the few real success stories. For co-founder Simon Nixon, dropping out of university was his passport to a fortune, as 2005's profits prove - up to £17.1m from £15.8m on sales of £68m. In 2006, his company expects to do even better, forecasting profits of £30m on £100m sales. His first business was a service called Mortgage 2000, founded with Duncan Cameron. It provided mortgage brokers with weekly product updates, and evolved into a trade magazine, Broker Update. The explosive growth of the internet posed 'massive threats to our business - but also huge opportunities', he recalls.

Nixon and Cameron (who has since left the company but remains a shareholder) set up their own site for surfers to compare quotes for mortgages, credit cards, personal loans and savings accounts. It was a phenomenal success. The Chester-based operation sells 7,000 personal loans a day, 6,000 credit cards and more than 1,000 savings accounts. New sister site covers flights and will shortly offer car hire and hotels, too.

But Nixon is pretty tight with his own money. He bakes his own bread and, although he loves Ferraris, won't own more than one: 'I'm dead tight and I hate paying tax and insurance on two cars,' he says. The recent sale of uSwitch (a comparable business) prompted Nixon to claim that now has a 'valuation in the region of £1 billion'. We can't argue with that. His stake is now worth £474m. We add £6m for past dividends and other assets.

3. 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.

Smith first came to prominence as a City analyst in 1992 for writing a controversial book showing how companies fiddle their profits. He also took on the FT and forced a grovelling apology out of the Pink 'Un at the beginning of last year. A boxing fan who lives in Essex, Smith led the management buyout of the business in May 2000 for £122m.

The company floated on the stock market in October 2000 and has grown since by taking over smaller rivals in the City and moving into new markets. In recent times, it has itself been the subject of intense takeover speculation, which has further boosted Smith's bank balance. His stake is now worth more than £77m since shares rose to a record high in late 2006. Salaries, property and bonuses take him to at least £85m.

4. ANDREW TURNER - Central Trust

In April 2006, Andrew Turner of Central Trust announced ambitious plans to boost his turnover to £1bn by 2010, and recruit up to 1,500 new staff in the process. An accountant by trade, Turner had set up the firm in 1987 in a small London office as a broker and lender of secured loans in the consumer finance sector. Now based in Norwich, Central Trust has a principal subsidiary that is one of the largest independent finance brokers offering loans to UK homeowners; other subsidiaries operate in the loan packaging, mortgage packaging and telemarketing sectors.

Central Trust profits and sales have surged on the back of the consumer borrowing spree and in 2005 it made a record £27.1m profit on £86.1m sales. On these figures, it's worth about £240m.

Turner recently launched a new computer system that he reckons will give Central Trust even more competitive advantage. His goal is to make the company (which he owns in its entirety) Britain's leading independent supplier of personal finance products. It's a demanding target, but few would bet against this low-key numbers man pulling it off.


This will be the last appearance in the MT 100 for one of Britain's most successful female entrepreneurs. Greek-born Elena Ambrosiadou is moving her entire hedge fund operation, Ikos (UK), to Cyprus, where she reckons to have a better chance of growing the business.

Ikos (UK) was started in 1992 by Ambrosiadou after she left BP, having risen to become its youngest-ever senior executive at the age of 27. As a private experiment, she put $100,000 of her own money into an account that would trade foreign exchange based on a computer program she had designed. When the fund went up 50% in two years, she decided to call it Ikos ('home' in Greek) and work on it full-time.

Ikos now has $2.8bn under management and one of its flagship funds has reported returns of 25.8% in the first half of a very tough 2005 for the industry. Ikos should easily be worth £120m, given the values ascribed to good hedge funds in the current climate. In 2004, she took a salary and dividends of nearly £15.9m, making her the best-paid female executive in Britain. Ambrosiadou has a five-year plan to grow the assets under management to $10bn by 2010.


Expansion is in the air - along with chicken feathers - at Two Sisters, the Singh's West Midlands-based poultry processor. A £6m investment at its Scunthorpe plant was the biggest ever in the history of the facility and was described as a 'serious commitment to the future of the town' by chief executive Ranjit Singh, who with his wife Baljinder wholly owns parent company Boparan Holdings. Boparan also recently acquired John Rannoch in Suffolk, an operation producing premium-quality roast and breaded chicken products for the retail and food-service markets.

With more than seven sites around Britain, Smethwick-based Boparan is best known for its Buxted chickens brand. In the year to July 2004, profits soared from £3.4m to £18.8m on sales up £40m at £326.8m.

Processed chicken may be unfashionable among the chattering classes these days, but it's clearly still highly profitable. On these figures, we value the company at about £100m. Ranjit and Baljinder Singh have taken more than £22.7m in dividends since 2000, so we value the couple at around £110m after tax and including other assets such as farms.


Telecom group Vanco recently unveiled a new service that allows its customers to check quickly the availability and pricing of broadband connections on a global basis. Middlesex-based Vanco works with more than 650 network partners to deliver those connections, and the new offer should sharply increase the firm's sales and reach in the highly competitive telecom market.

But this is par for the course for Vanco's CEO, Allen Timpany. A serial entrepreneur, his first business was Guestel, an Apple Computer dealer, in 1980. He sold it four years later and went on to launch and sell several other high-tech businesses.

His best deal was to respond to an ad in the FT in 1989 to buy Vanco, then a loss-making data services company, for just £1. A virtual network operator (it's not itself a carrier but resells bandwidth and services supplied by other carriers), Vanco provides communications networking services to corporate customers around the world, including Avis, Ford and Siemens. It recently bought the assets of Chicago-based network services provider Universal Access Global Holdings, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2004, for about $22m.

Timpany floated Vanco on the stock market in late 2001 - the first successful flotation after 9/11. Its value has soared and that £1 purchase has been turned into a stake worth more than £133m. He sold £1.9m worth of shares in September 2004. Timpany is easily worth £136m.


Potteries-based Peter Coates is an unsentimental success story. He opened three bookie's shops in 1974, eventually building up the Provincial racing chain to 49 branches. But when Bet365, the online betting website masterminded by daughter Denise seven years ago, started to take off, he didn't hesitate to flog the shops to concentrate on the internet side. The sale of the chain in 2005 netted a useful £40m.

Founded with an initial £12m investment, Bet365 made £3.8m profit on sales of £608m in 2004-05 and, now valued at £110m, it has developed into a leading gambling website.

Although it is bookmaking that has made him a wealthy man, Coates pere made his first foray into business in 1968 with Stadia Catering, providing food and drink to football clubs up and down the country. A lifelong Stoke City fan, in May 2006 he spent £10m to take over the club for the second time, buying out the Icelandic consortium to whom he sold his 66% stake first time round in 1998. 'I'm 68 years old and have all the money I need. I don't need to be making a £10m-plus investment into a football club which is losing money. It's clearly not a sensible financial investment,' he said at the time.

With assets in Bet365 and proceeds from the sale of other businesses, the Coates family should easily be worth £126m after tax.

9. JUDY CRAYMER - Littlestar Services

Judy Craymer was working as an assistant to theatre producer Sir Tim Rice in the 1980s when she met the men who were to spark her obsession: Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson of Swedish pop supergroup Abba. They were writing for Rice's musical Chess. 'I was never a huge Abba fan as a teenager but, after meeting Bjorn and Benny, I became hooked. I thought, bloody hell, these are the men who wrote Dancing Queen,' she recalls.

In 1995, she hit on the idea of a musical and, after years of hard work and persuasion, got the Abba boys' approval, on the condition that she'd find someone to write a decent script. 'All my friends thought I was crazy,' she says. 'They said Abba was so passe and I should get over it. But I knew everyone would want to see the musical.'

Mamma Mia! opened in 1999 and has since been seen by 24 million people worldwide. For Littlestar Services, the company behind the phenomenally successful show, profits hit £8m on sales of £24.3m in 2004-05, as new productions of the musical opened on Broadway and Stockholm (Moscow is the latest city to fall for its discotastic appeal). Craymer's stake in Littlestar is now worth £60m and we add £18m for other assets, past salaries and dividends.

10. ANTHONY LANGLEY - Langley Holdings

Tony Langley seems intent on proving wrong the doom-mongers who lament the fading of British industry. In 2005, engineering group Langley Holdings made a healthy £14m profit on £224.5m sales, its 25 subsidiary companies doing everything from making cement cooling machines and dockside cranes to building houses.

In 1976, aged 22, Langley resurrected what is now Retford-based Langley Holdings from the ashes of his grandfather's engineering business. Originally, it provided services to the coal industry, but with the demise of that sector, Langley became the multi-disciplinary group it is today.

Tony has expanded rapidly in 'old economy' markets such as steel, rail and electricity, proving his tremendous eye for identifying and acquiring unwanted divisions of larger corporates. In late 2000, he took over Clarke Chapman, the materials-handling business of Rolls-Royce, nearly tripling the size of his firm overnight. Twelve months later, Langley bought Hamburg-based Claudius Peters Group, followed by BMH Americas, both acquired from Babcock. In January 2005, the company bought RWE Pillar, a German supplier of uninterruptible power supplies to industry.

=11. MIKE ASHLEY - Sportsworld International

Britain's most reclusive tycoon just loves brands. Mike Ashley, founder and owner of the Sportsworld International group, already owns the Dunlop Slazenger, Karrimor and Lonsdale brands, as well as the Sportsworld chain and the iconic Lillywhite's store in central London.

Now he is buying up shares in Blacks Leisure, which owns the Blacks, Milletts, Free Spirit, Mambo and O'Neill chains. With a stake of nearly 30% as MT went to press, he is reckoned by City analysts to be preparing a full bid for Blacks that could cost him £200m.

But who is Britain's answer to Howard Hughes? After leaving school at 16, Ashley began trading on the high street, opening sports shops in and around London. By 1990, he had three outlets, trading under the Sports Soccer name. He opened 100 or so more over the next 10 years. He acquired Lillywhites in 2002, turning a genteel store into a pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap bazaar.

He picks up cheap the rights to has-been labels such as tennis and golf brand Donnay and boxing label Lonsdale and revives them. He snapped up Dunlop Slazenger and hiking brand Karrimor in 2004. He likes to scare rivals such as JJB Sports and JD Sports by taking stakes, which he later sells.

At Sportsworld, he pulls in shoppers with big discounts on prestige brands like Reebok, Adidas and Nike. Customers then spend on Ashley's own brands - which have been stretched so far that the Lonsdale label now adorns toddlers' tracksuits in pink velour. But they generate high profit margins. In 2004-05, profits at Dunstable-based Sportsworld rose to £74.4m on sales of £905.4m.

=11. FRED & PETER DONE - Done Brothers (Cash Betting) and Peninsular Business Services.

Fred Done put a £250,000 bet on England winning the World Cup last year at odds of 10-1. 'In 1966, I was earning £25 a week and put a bet on for £200. England did the business for me then.'

This time he could afford to lose. With his brother Peter, Fred was raised on Salford's tough Ordsall estate in the 1950s. They started out as bookie's runners for their father. From a single shop, the pair now own Britain's sixth-largest bookie's chain. Fred's Betfred online gambling operation is growing at breakneck speed on the back of online (and real world) poker tournaments.

It was brother Peter, though, who 20 years ago started up lucrative Peninsular Business Services as a legal advice sideline. The Dones' main betting operation has a parent company called Lightcatch, which in 2004-05 made just £1.2m profit on £751m sales. But adding in the brothers' salaries of £10.8m takes the bottom line to £12m. Leaguename, Peninsular's parent, made a good £5.6m profit on £45.19m sales in 2004-05. Add the £3.3m directors' pay and the profit is nearly £9m. Done operations should be worth £230m. With about £45m in salaries and dividends over 10 years, we add £30m to take the brothers' worth to £260m.

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