Britain's top 100 Entrepreneurs 2009: Recession Resisters

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Here's our pick of the entrepreneurs most likely to do well as the economic climate worsens

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013


Most people have never heard of Edwina Dunn, but if you shop at Tesco she has heard of you. She and her husband Clive Humby are the brains behind Tesco's incredibly successful Clubcard, tracking customer behaviour in scary detail. And as the recession bites, demand for Dunnhumby's sales-boosting insights is booming. In 2007-08, the West London-based firm's profits came in at £23.7m on sales of £79.79m. Tesco recently in-creased its stake from 53% to 84% by buying shares from the founders. Other major clients include Coca-Cola, eBay, Unilever and Vodafone.


About 35 million customers in 150 countries rely on Sophos anti-virus software to keep hackers and fraudsters at bay. Its business in North America increased by 50% in 2006-07. With cybercrime on the rise as the global economy slows down, Sophos is well placed to ride out the downturn. The Abingdon-based company was founded in 1985 by Jan Hruska and Peter Lammer, who met at Oxford. Today Sophos is a world leader in anti-virus software technology. In 2007-08, it turned in a £4.7m loss on £84m sales, but it's a one-off, related to the pulling of a planned flotation in 2007. It doesn't detract from what remains a world-class business with strong prospects.


Sales of James Dyson's bagless vacuum cleaner range are roaring ahead and he now commands a 46% share of the British market and 32% in the all-important US market. Cameo appearances of its products in sitcoms such as Will and Grace and Friends have made the Dyson a must-have product, creating a powerhouse brand. The new Airblade hand-drier, which uses 80% less power than regular blowers, is also doing well. But Sir James has shelved plans to set up a design school in Bath after four years of bureaucratic wrangling. It's all a long way from his early days. He invented the Ballbarrow 30 years ago and spent 15 years trying to bring his cyclonic separation cleaner to the market. It nearly bankrupted him. But it was worth it - in 2007, profits at the Dyson operation came in at £89m on £611m sales. The firm has little debt and Dyson has a good cash cushion.


Hamish Ogston tried a number of ventures before setting up York-based CPP in 1980. Its customer-assistance products include Card Protection Plan, providing protection to millions of creditcard users, Key Cover for lost keys, Fone Safe for mobiles and Financial Health for personal financial management. The group has a worldwide base of 11.3 million customers. Ogston's business made losses all through the '80s but is booming now, and demand for his products, helping cash-strapped punters to hang onto their cards, is likely to increase. A 2008 stock market flotation had been mooted for the group before the market went south in September. It would have provided a windfall for its founder, but we think he'll manage without it. In 2007, CPP made £25.9m profit on sales of £225m. Ogston gave £2m in August for the restoration of York Minster.


Gordon Brown's efforts to get the unemployed back to work will be helped by Emma Harrison's A4E operation, which recently won a contract to supply the Government's 'Pathways to Work' programme to four regions. Harrison, best known for appearances on ITV's Make Me a Million and Channel 4's Secret Millionaire, has spent 15 years helping the unemployed find work. She's looking to start a bank aimed at poor and disadvantaged communities. The founder of A4E, formerly Action For Employment, plans three trial branches in the next 18 months. The venture could cost up to £100m, and Harrison hopes for as many as a million customers in six years. The Sheffield-based firm made £2.2m profit on £101m sales in 2006-07.


Established in 1977 by brothers Alastair and Michael Powell, Cleveland Cable is an electrical cable distributor. It has invested in logistics, measurement and service technologies and has built massive distribution and exporting capabilities at its 12-acre Middlesbrough HQ. Its specialised cables are sold to many markets, supporting fire, security and communication systems in challenging environments, such as underground or offshore. Company profits soared from £5.2m to £37.6m in 2006-07 on sales up from £55.5m to £191.6m. Net assets rose from £72.2m to £98.6m. Cleveland Cable Company has little debt and the low-profile Powells have plenty of cash salted away.


John Timpson's business is booming. In the last week of October, his 635 stores took a record £900,000 in shoe repairs alone, and watch repairs are up 10%. 'The last few weeks have been phenomenal for us. We are seeing a lot of new customers,' said Timpson in November. Key-cutting and the sale of house nameplates have been hit by the collapsing property market, but staff are fixing more than the usual quota of swanky watches, shoes and designer handbags, as affluent professionals go thrifty. Timpson (pictured opposite), the great-grandson of William, who founded the firm in 1865, predicts revenue growth. In the year to Sept '07, his holding company Offerhappy made a £10.6m profit on £92.3m sales. With 1,800 employees, the firm plans 40 new stores this year.


A former Procter & Gamble marketing exec, Richard Harpin set up Homeserve in 1994 after hearing friends' nightmare stories about plumbers. The insurance and domestic repair services firm has some eight million policies across Europe and the US. Harpin reckons it will ride out the recession well and plans expansion in Germany, Italy and Benelux. 'The great thing is that many of our customers are over 60 and the last thing they want in a downturn is a big repair bill,' he said in September. And those who can't afford a new boiler or washing machine may opt to get their old one covered by a Homeserve repair contract instead. Despite the recent stock market turmoil, Homeserve is still worth £790m.


A member of the Inchcape family, Lord Tanlaw used to work in the family firm and was MD in the 1960s. Made a life peer in 1971, he had stood for Parliament three times as a Liberal, and in his spare time is a keen horologist who looked after Big Ben. He retired from Inchcape's board in 1993 to run Fandstan Electric, his own engineering operation specialising in railway electrification - a major beneficiary of any rail infrastructure upgrades (a likely Government spending target in the slowdown). Family trusts hold about two-thirds of the shares. Fandstan made £8.7m profit on £90.4m sales in 2007. It has a robust balance sheet and net assets of nearly £33m.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Why collaborations fail

Collaboration needn’t be a dirty word.

How redundancies affect culture

There are ways of preventing 'survivor syndrome' derailing your recovery.

What they don't tell you about inclusive leadership

Briefing: Frances Frei was hired to fix Uber’s ‘bro culture’. Here’s her lesson for where...

Should you downsize the office?

Many businesses are preparing for a 'hybrid' workplace.

How to make your team more accountable

‘Do as I do’ works a lot better than ‘do as I say’.

Black talent isn’t hard to find: It’s just you

If you want to attract the widest range of applicants, you need to think about...