Britain's Top 100 Entrepreneurs 2010: The Big Winners

Oil moguls crowd our top 10 this year, while our top woman - in third - adds a dash of catwalk glamour.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013


When he took on oil services group Petrofac to set up Petrofac International in 1991, Ayman Asfari struck black gold. The Syrian-born entrepreneur transformed the firm from a US outfit focused on its domestic market into an international oil business, managing rigs all over the world and designing its own drilling and refinery equipment. Now a British citizen, CEO Asfari led the £742m flotation of Petrofac on the London Stock Exchange in October 2005. It's now a FTSE-100 company. Petrofac has a £3.5bn order book and a strong presence in the Middle East, where Asfari has excellent contacts. With 11,000 staff, it operates out of four strategic sites -Aberdeen, Woking, Sharjah (UAE) and Mumbai - plus a further 20 offices worldwide. Asfari is committed to the North Sea and said in early 2009: 'The UK continental shelf market remains buoyant. We have added 300 personnel in the UK since January and are continuing to hire.' In November, Petrofac won a five-year, £100m maintenance contract from BP. Its shares have now recovered from the stock market turmoil of late 2008, and the business is worth a cool £3.2bn, on the back of expected profits growth above 20% in 2009. Asfari has a 15.5% stake.


Another oil-business success story this year is Richard Higham's Acteon Group. Acteon comprises 17 businesses that provide specialist technical services to the offshore oil and gas sector, all controlled from the firm's distinctly onshore fenland HQ in Norwich. There has been little let-up in acquisitions. Since leading a secondary MBO in 2006 backed by First Reserve, CEO Higham has bought six businesses worldwide, including Fluke Engenharia of Brazil for £19.5m and Singapore's Cape Group for £3.7m. Acteon has operations in Europe, America, the Middle East and Asia. In 2008, it made £34.6m profit on sales of £309m, although 2009's results may be less stellar. On these figures, it should easily be worth £200m in today's climate, valuing Higham's stake at £52m.


Natalie Massenet started as a fashion editor at Women's Wear Daily, later moving to Tatler. Not the most obvious start for a career in e-commerce, but in 2000 she founded Net-a-Porter, the online boutique that sells haute couture to style-conscious but time-poor fashionistas. Defying the Jeremiahs who said fashion online would never fly, the company now operates across Europe, North America, and the Middle and Far East. It employs more than 460 people in its offices in London and New York. Net-a-Porter sells hip designer labels, including Miu Miu, Chloe and Marc Jacobs, and boasts same-day delivery to addresses in Manhattan and London. In 2008-09, profits at the London-based business more than tripled to over £10m on £81.5m sales. Net-a-Porter is one of Britain's fastest- growing companies, and Massenet has had offers worth many millions for the business. But she has not yet been tempted to accept any of them, having found herself a perfect niche in the cut-throat world of fashion.


An accountant by training, Tullow Oil's Irish chief executive Aidan Heavey has turned the oil and gas exploration outfit into a stock market star - and one that continues to shine despite the recession. He was a founding director of the firm in 1985 and has played a key role at Tullow since its formation. From its early days in Africa, Tullow grew to become active across the British, Asian and South American markets. In 2006, he acquired Australian company Hardman Resources for £581m, and also bought into the North Sea gas market well before the rise in gas prices. London-based Tullow is tipped as a takeover target and its shares have held their own through months of stock market turmoil. The company has also made promising discoveries off the Ghana coast and in Uganda. Tullow is now worth £9.9bn. Heavey, educated at University College Dublin, has a stake worth £78m. He cashed in £24m in options in 2008, taking him to £98m easily.


Self-made retailer Chris Dawson has an unmatched eye for a bargain. When the MFI chain failed in November 2008, it was Dawson who worked round the clock to secure the bankrupt stock - all 2,400 lorry-loads of it - for a knock-down £68m. He is now making a handsome profit selling cut-price kitchens, bedrooms and the like through his Range chain of discount home stores. It's an approach typical of a man who started out as a market trader, and whose sharp patter earned him the nickname of 'Plymouth's very own deluxe Del Boy'. With nearly 40 stores to his name now, Dawson has branched out, adding a waste-management business to his portfolio, which also includes online sales, a shopfitting company, insurance, a low-cost energy service and property interests in the south of France. He opened his first Range store in 1988 and has not looked back since. Profits at his company, CDS (Superstores), reached a record £10.2m on sales of £174.7m in the year to January 2009. Despite this success, and the trappings of wealth such as his £200,000 Aston Martin, Dawson remains disciplined and careful about money. 'I always fly economy and I always stay in Travel Inns,' he says. 'I'm not a wizard or a maestro, I'm just a bit of a boy when it comes to business.' We can't argue with that. As more stores come on-stream, Dawson's empire is worth £150m, even in this difficult environment.


Aberdeen-based energy and offshore engineering specialist Wood Group had a respectable 2009, with its shares rising steadily after hitting a low point in the stock market turmoil of late 2008. First-half profits and revenues have held up, too. Although the company is still worth £1bn less than it was at its peak, this recovery is good news for Sir Ian Wood. The firm's chairman, and widely seen as the architect of the oil boom enjoyed by the granite city over the past couple of decades, Wood was in on North Sea oil from the start, having taken over the running of a family-owned fishing operation in 1964. Destined for an academic career after taking a first-class honours degree in psychology at Aberdeen University, he agreed to help his father on a temporary basis after graduating. He never left, and went on to transform the Wood Group into an international energy services outfit employing 29,000 people in 50 countries. The company was floated on the stock market in 2002 with a £1bn valuation. In a trading statement late last year, the company declared that its bread-and-butter work in the North Sea was going well and that it was on target to meet City profit expectations.


Co-founded by the very-low-profile Henry Moser in 1973, Jerrold Holdings' Blemain Group is a finance specialist, providing secured lending to both residential and commercial customers. A classic bootstrapper, Moser left school at 16 and worked as a market trader before starting Blemain. Known for his hard work and dedication to the job, he elected not to take a business lunch for 20 years, preferring to be doing 'something more productive'. Such single-mindedness seems to have paid off - Barclays Private Equity invested £113.5m for a 30% stake in September 2006, and in November 2007 Blemain's parent company Jerrold Holdings secured a £900m funding package to increase its lending firepower and boost its growth plans. In the year to June 2008, Blemain's profits rose from £56.6m in the previous year to £68.7m on sales of nearly £166m.


Founded in 2000 by Siepman brothers Chris and Gregg, Liquid Capital began as a marketmaker on the London options market, providing liquidity for a range of exchange-traded fixed-income, index and equity options. The company has grown rapidly and now makes markets in Hong Kong, the US and Australia, as well as in the Square Mile. The Siepmans have also added options broking and quantitative trading operations to their portfolio. The group has an IT facility in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China. Liquid Capital saw its profits soar to £12.2m on £164.4m turnover in 2008. Chris is group CEO in London, while Gregg heads Liquid Capital Australia. Between them, they have an 85% stake in the £40m operation.


Being an actuary may not be everyone's idea of fun, but if Andy Bell is anything to go by, it can be a lucrative profession. His Manchester-based firm is one of the largest administrators of self invested personal pensions (Sipps) in the UK, handling pension investments of over £5bn on behalf of 35,000 clients, plus £2.8bn of assets through its Lawshare operation. Having graduated from Nottingham University in 1987 with a first class degree in maths, Bell went on to train as an actuary and became a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries in 1993. Two years later, he co-founded AJ Bell, and the rest, as they say, is history. It made a tasty £9.6m profit on £24.5m sales in the year to September 2008.


Plain-speaking Lancastrian Peter Hargreaves co-founded independent financial adviser Hargreaves Lansdown in 1981 with his partner Stephen Lansdown. He recalls stuffing envelopes in the front room of his Bristol cottage while the rest of the country watched Charles and Diana tie the knot in West-minster Abbey. Initially, the firm targeted accountancy businesses, as both founders were in the trade - Hargreaves an auditor at Whitbread and Lansdown at Touche Ross. But it was a newspaper ad offering direct-to-consumer guidance to the then newly fashionable unit trusts that got the firm going. Har-greaves Lansdown floated in May 2007, valued at £760m. Since then, it has shrugged off market turmoil and is now valued at £1.3bn. Hargreaves has even witten a book, In for a Penny: A business adventure (Harriman House, 2009), explaining how he did it. His stake is worth £458m, he sold £75m worth of shares at flotation, and with earlier salaries and dividends (£30m-plus in the past 10 years), he is easily worth £520m after tax.


Niche manufacturing is alive and well - over a third of our list make specialist kit, from blast walls to pilots' seats. Here's the pick of the crop...


Leeds-based Hesco Bastion makes the sand-filled blast walls that protect military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan: Camp Bastion, Britain's main military base in the latter, is even named after its product. Low-key founder Jimmy Hesel-den left school at 15 in the 1960s, but didn't come up with the idea that would make his fortune until 1991. The 'Hesco' barrier, giant sandbags in a flat-packed wire frame with a heavy fabric lining, can be erected in just 20 mins by two people and a bulldozer. The MoD bought 10km-worth early in the first Gulf War, and the US forces soon followed. Heselden's original $150m contract with the Pentagon was upped to $500m in 2004. But he has known troubles too, fighting off patent infringements on his design and recovering from a fire that destroyed his factory in 2002. Heselden owns the lot, and in 2007-08 made £31m profit on £196.4m sales.


Allam Marine, the Hull-based manufacturer of industrial and marine generator sets, pushed up profits from £6.3m in 2007 to £10.6m in 2008, on sales rising from £75m to £106m. It produces a range of diesel-powered generators and control systems, fully assembled or in kit form, exporting the majority to the likes of Turkey, Nigeria and South Africa. Egyptian-born Allam joined the firm - then called Tempest Diesels - in 1977, seconded from the bank that then owned it. He never left, and took it over completely in 1981, when it was given its present name. Allam Marine has been growing steadily ever since and won a Queen's Award for Enterprise in 2006 for its export success. Allam's ambition is to achieve a turnover of £500m.


Lincolnshire-based Hexadex is the biggest supplier of exhausts for articulated vehicles in the world, and manufactures a range of industrial couplings. New contracts and higher productivity elicited a sterling performance in 2008, when group profits hit a record £9.9m on £100.6m sales. Founded in 1993, Hexa-dex is run by its MD, David Milles, who with his family and trusts own 90% of the shares. With a strong balance sheet and £32.3m net assets, Hexadex is worth £38m even today.


Founded in the 1850s, Willenhall-based galvanising business Wedge Group opened a £6m 'hot dip' plant in Cam-bridgeshire last year. Designed to set industry-leading standards in sustainability and low environmental impact, the factory features an integrated rainwater collection and storage system to minimise the use of mains water. Jeremy Woolridge, chairman and chief executive, calls the plant 'a unique building in our industry'. Wedge's galvanising techniques protect the Pepsi Max Big One rollercoaster in Blackpool from sea air, as well as the gates at Ascot racecourse. In 2007-08, profits soared from £13.5m the previous year to £16.7m, on sales also up sharply at £114.4m.


Allan Johnson was working at Southend airport when he realised that poor cockpit seating was forcing many pilots to take time off with back and leg problems. He designed a fully adjustable aircrew seat, and founded IPE (Industrial Precision Equipment) in 1961 to make it. After German airline Lufthansa signed up for his seats in the 1970s, the firm's future was assured. Renamed Ipeco, the business is run by Allan's son Christopher and has branched out into cabin fittings, electronics and machined components for the defence industry. It made £3.6m profit on sales of £59.5m in 2008 and showed net assets close to £31m.


Permastore is Europe's market leader in specialist storage tanks and silos for liquid and dry bulk materials. The firm, initially called Boythorpe, was establish-ed in Yorkshire in 1959, and an MBO led by Andrew Gare in 1984 was followed by relocation to Eye, Suffolk, in 1987. Boy-thorpe bought out its main competitor Permastore in 1991 and took its name. Since then, its tank and silo kits have been exported to more than 110 countries. In 2008-09, Permastore's profits hit £6.1m on £31m sales, valuing it at £37m. Gare has a 78% stake.


Scrap metal business S Norton claims that its Liverpool and Manchester recycling centres are among the most modern in Europe. The firm also handles plastics since its 2006 acquisition of a majority stake in Axion Recycling. In 2008, Norton's profits came in at £4.1m after a good first half, though there was a dramatic second-half fall in demand as the global economic crisis unfolded. Still, the company made substantial foreign exchange profits, and sales hit a record £229.1m. The business is owned by the Harry family, led by John Harry.


It was reported in September '08 that Gary Dutton had received offers for his Synseal operation, one of Britain's biggest suppliers of window frames, doors and conservatories. The Notts-based firm was then reckoned to be worth up to £80m. Dutton started in the rigid PVC window business from a corner shop in 1980, with £200 and an ad in the local paper. In 18 months, Synseal had 13 showrooms across the East Midlands and soon went national. In 2007-08, profits were £8.5m on £91.7m sales. Net assets top £40m. We value the busi-ness at £75m, and Dutton owns it all.


In 1986, Chris Thompson took over Tyneside's Express Engineering, a firm founded by his father. Since then, he has created more than 40 enterprises, selling some off but remaining involved with others as investor, director or chairman, many under the Express Group brand. Express Engineering, the biggest company in the group, had its best-ever year in 2008, making a £1.2m profit on £13.8m sales. Thompson, who is chairman, has a 78% stake. He also owns Express Holdings (Thompson), which in 2007-08 had £7.5m net assets.


Thorlux Lighting began in 1936 when Frederick William Thorpe started producing 'Thorlux' circular reflectors in his Birmingham workshop. Today, Thorlux designs, manufactures and supplies an array of professional lighting systems to customers worldwide. Frederick's grandson Andrew is chairman and joint CEO of parent company FW Thorpe, having started as a shop-floor apprentice. The firm's share price held up well in the turmoil of 2008-09, and rose sharply in recent weeks. The Thorpe family stake is now worth nearly £34m.


A phalanx of style firms whose founders combine a great eye for design with a cool head for business - generating lucrative results


Costume jewellery is all the rage in these cash-strapped times, and West Sussex-based Icon Live is riding high as a result. It provides costume and fashion jewellery to a number of well-known high-street retailers, supplying a complete package that includes creating, designing, buying and maintaining collections for any client in any market, from trendy teens to stylish silvertops. Founded in 2001 by Carly Read and her business partner Valerie Scott, it has an online earring division called, aptly enough, Read has also recently launched a wholesale jewellery website for French Connection, a project that she hopes to roll out for other clients. Icon Live employs more than 1,400 staff, and operates a 38,000 sq ft custom-built distribution centre in Burgess Hill. In 2007-08, profits came in at £3.1m on sales of £63.6m.


Tapping into what turned out to be a huge demand on the part of aspirational middle-class shoppers for crisp white linen, The White Company has done remarkably well since it opened its doors in 1993. From its early days, when almost everything really was white, The White Company has now branched out into black, brown and grey, although its founder Chrissie Rucker has no plans to go Technicolor. 'Garish colours just aren't me,' she has said. 'They make me feel manic.' As well as the towels and bedlinen for which it is best known, The White Company also sells a wide range of clothing, bathroom and home products, and there's The Little White Company for kids. Owned and run by Rucker, the firm's sales in the crucial 10-week Christmas period in 2008 rose by a solid 14% on the previous year. In 2007-08, its profits hit a record £2.1m from £69.8m sales. Rucker studied fashion design, and her first job was as an assistant to wedding-dress designer Anneliese Sharpe. Later, she joined Conde Naste Publications as a receptionist, becoming assistant editor at Harpers & Queen (now Harper's Bazaar) before starting up on her own.


He already has over a million customers for his clothes worldwide, and now Johnnie Boden is taking North America by storm with his mail-order and online fashion label. Later this year, the firm will also address the recession-proof youth market here in the UK, with a new range called Johnnie B aimed at teenagers. For Boden, an old Etonian and hellraiser at Oxford, the success of his JP Boden operation is all the more sweet after abject failure in his first career as a City stockbroker. 'I was no good at it - every share I recommended went down,' he later recalled. 'By the time I left the City, I was unemployable.' An unexpected legacy from an uncle enabled him to quit, and he eventually started Boden in 1991. Since then, the company has proved adept at creating and marketing well-made, stylish clothes for all the family. The Boden catalogue, famous for featuring 'real people' as its models, is now beloved of yummy mummies and other wealthy people with little time. In 2008, profits at JP Boden, based in unfashionable Acton, came in at £25.2m on sales of £168m.


Visage designs, sources and supplies casual-wear collections for big-name retail chains that include Philip Green's Arcadia Group. The South Shields-based fashion empire is run by Raj Sehgal and Sanjeev Mehan, son and son-in-law respectively of founder Mukesh Sehgal.Visage began life in the 1960s as a door-to-door operation and grew to incorporate market stalls and shops. When, in the 1980s, the focus switched to importing, things really took off. Sehgal also supplies sportswear to the likes of River Island, JD Sports and Champion Sports, under the Visage Retail banner. Profits at Visage Group came in at £7.2m on sales of £160m in 2007-08.


Probably Britain's best-known men's fashion designer, Smith has bucked the recessionary gloom with a new £10m warehouse in his native Nottingham. He hates debt and has grown his eponymous business from its own resources, so his firm is sitting relatively pretty as a result. He's also no fan of that industry-standard marketing vehicle, the fashion show, saying: 'I have always preferred the creative process of designing and selling clothes to the idea of putting on a poncy fashion show. It would be wonderful if fashion shows died out completely.' It's an attitude that hasn't hurt his sales, up 17% on the previous year in 2008, and 50% over the past three years. With 200 stores in Japan, he is huge there, and international expansion elsewhere moves apace. Recent openings include Paris and San Francisco, and a Las Vegas store opened last month. Even after his wife and his long-time business partner John Morley sold a 40% stake to his Japanese licensee Itochu in 2006, Smith still owns 60% of the firm. Profits at Paul Smith Group hit £22.1m on nearly £150m sales in 2007-2008 - not bad for someone who, aged 15, started out as a warehouse hand.


The founder of the LK Bennett fashion group and the woman who brought kitten heels back to the high street, Bennett grew up in North London and studied shoe design at Cordwainers College in Hackney. After working on the factory floor for shoe designer Robert Clergerie and on the shop floor of Whistles and then Joseph, Bennett opened her first shop in Wimbledon aged just 26. She now has 74 stores, including branches on London's smart Brook Street and Sloane Square, as well as concessions in Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and Fenwick - not to mention her store on the Rue de Grenelle in Paris and three more in Ireland. In the year to July 2007, profits at LK Bennett rose smartly to £8.5m on £45.5m sales. She started looking for a buyer for the business as long ago as 2005, and after several false starts finally sold it, with impeccable timing, just before the recession hit. Phoenix Equity Partners and Sirius Equity bought a 70% stake from Bennett for £100m in July 2008.


Regatta, the UK's most recognised outdoor clothing brand, continues to expand overseas, despite the state of the market. The strong euro has helped sales, and the company has taken on a German salesforce to help flog its Craghoppers range to fresh-air-loving Teutons. Based in Manchester's distinctly urban Trafford Park, Regatta supplies waterproof clothes, footwear and rucksacks to retailers worldwide, and currently ex-ports to 30 countries. Founder and MD Keith Black started the business 25 years ago: in 2007-08, parent company Risol Imports made a £4.9m profit on sales of £61.2m.


Two heads are better than one, they say, as our brothers-in-business duos demonstrate. From bookies to stairlifts, these are all sibling success stories


Fred Done was raised on Salford's tough Ordsall estate in the 1950s. With his brother Peter, he started out as a bookie's runner - their father ran what was then an illegal betting operation. From a single shop in 1967, the pair have gone on to own one of the largest bookmaker chains in the UK. Trading as BetFred (named after Fred), they have nearly 800 branches, as well as the thriving web gambling operation, Stock market turmoil put paid to a planned £600m flotation in late 2007, but they didn't do too badly, all the same: in 2007-08, the firm made nearly £39m profit on a whopping £1.1bn turnover. The Done brothers also have interests in insurance and sports promotion, as well as their own restaurant. Twenty years ago, Peter started up legal advice outfit Peninsula Business Services as a sideline, and this has developed into something of a moneyspinner, too.


West London builder Byrne Group has been dodging the downturn, thanks to upmarket jobs such as its £7.5m contract to extend the pukka Connaught Hotel in the heart of Mayfair. It is this sort of specialist work that is helping the group keep a roof over its head, at a time when many of its rivals in the construction trade are heading for the poorhouse. Founded in 1973, the business is run by Irish brothers Johnny and Patrick Byrne. Among its other more prestigious jobs have been the concrete frames supporting the HSBC Tower at Canary Wharf, the Millennium Dome, Chelsea Football Club's new stand and Wimbledon's Number One Court. In the year to May 2008, group profits came in at a record £9.5m, with sales at £317.3m up £45m on the previous year, and last November the firm was named Sustainable Contractor of the Year at the Building awards.


Nottingham-based Romo was founded in 1902 by Robert Mould, who gave the first two letters of each of his names to the company. It remains a family-run business, and is now jointly owned by the founder's great-grandsons, Robert and Jonathan. Originally a small-scale furniture manufacturer, Romo became wholesaler to the upholstery industry in the 1930s, supplying furnishing fabrics and components for furniture manufacturing. Today, it designs and markets exclusive furnishings, upholstery fabrics and wallcoverings under three brands - Romo, Villa Nova and Kirby Design. In 2008, Romo (Holdings) made a £9.5m profit on £58.8m sales.


Waremoss, the Uckfield-based pharmacy chain, has 32 branches stretching from Luton to the south coast via London. It made a £2.4m profit on £40.2m sales in the year to August 2008. With net assets of £9m, the company is now easily worth £20m on these figures. Managing director Bipin Chotai, his finance director brother Piyoosh and their families own it all - right down to the last pill bottle.


Brothers Crispin and Geremy Thomas set up their Frome-based Talk Me Through It (TMTI) business in 2002, after seeing phone customers struggle to work their increasingly complex mobile handsets. Today, its call centre staff coach customers of big-name retailers, including Boots and Argos, in how to use all kind of hi-tech gadgets, while online simulators and training software cater for those who prefer their learning to be virtual. TMTI also operates a voucher scheme, giving buyers 10 free minutes of guidance with every purchase. Support centres have been set up in Canada and Switzerland, and the firm also has a consulting arm. In 2008-09, TMTI made £898,000 profit on £5.2m sales. It should be worth £10m. The Thomas brothers own nearly 95% of the equity.


Ironically, Slough-based Business Post was started as a courier business after the 1971 postal strike. Peter Kane was joined by his brother Michael in 1974 and they floated the company on the stock market in 1993. If things this year continue as they did last, the Kanes may once again have reason to be grateful for Royal Mail's dismal track record on industrial relations. But strikes or no, with the monopoly over postal services now broken, Business Post is proving a formidable rival. The group's year-on-year revenues rose by 34.4% to £80.1m in the first half of financial year 2008-09, while profits increased by 25% to £6m. In February 2007, its UK Mail subsidiary won a contract worth £8.1m annually to handle the BBC's television licence mailings. Earlier, it secured a £12m mailing contract from the Department of Work and Pensions, Whitehall's largest bulk mailer.


Originally based in Wembley, MJ Clancy & Sons was founded by Michael Clancy in 1958 to undertake groundworks, drainage and road maintenance in and around the London area. Over the following 15 years, the business grew, expanding into tunnelling and associated works. The Clancy brothers - Kevin and Dermot - are sons of Michael and joint managing directors of the parent company. The Clancy Group saw its profits rise from £927,000 in 2006-07 to nearly £4.9m in 2007-08, on sales of £234.2m. During the brothers' time at the helm, group turnover has grown a hundredfold. The company has a solid balance sheet and net assets of nearly £37m, so it's better positioned than many of its rivals in the sector to see off the downturn.


As the owners of Andover-based Stannah Family Holdings, Brian and Alan Stannah know all about grey power. The firm recently invested £3.5m to build a 64,500 sq ft factory in Newcastle for its stairlifts division. The ageing population has accelerated demand for Stannah products, many of which are designed expressly for the needs of the mature consumer. The company is best known for its lifts, stairlifts and powered chairs for the elderly and infirm, but also makes and maintains all kinds of goods and passenger lifts. Joseph Stannah founded the company in 1860, when he began experimenting with hand- powered lifts for moving ships' cargo. And, 150 years on, Stannah remains a family business, run and owned by the fourth generation. It launched its first stairlifts in 1975 and has sold 400,000 of them since. It now has subsidiaries in Holland, Italy and the US, helping the chronologically challenged get about their homes in more than 50 countries. In 2008, profits came in at £10.1m on £168.7m sales.

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