Britain's Top 100 Entrepreneurs: Veterans

Our old-hand entrepreneurs, in their sixties and seventies, are an inspiration even to their most maverick young rivals, proving that flair and drive remain undimmed.

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

=47. HAROLD MARTIN - HW Martin Holdings

At 77, Sir Arnold shows no sign of slowing down. With a young management team, he should keep going for years. Harold Martin is making a fortune from fencing, traffic management systems and plant hire. His Derbyshire-based HW Martin Holdings supplies clients such as the Highways Agency, Railtrack and HM Prison Service. In the year to June 2003, it made £2.1 million profit on £43.4 million sales. Adding in part of 69-year-old Martin's £7.2 million salary to the bottom line takes the profit to £7 million.

55. SIR ARNOLD CLARK - Arnold Clark Organisation

A well-deserved knighthood for Arnold Clark, Britain's largest car dealer, comes as his Arnold Clark Organisation proclaims a 'fantastic year'. Profits rose to £44 million on sales of £1.46 billion in 2003, and the group is now one of Scotland's largest private-sector employers, with 6,541 staff.

Clark originally trained as a motor fitter instructor in the RAF, and began his own car dealership in Glasgow's Kelvinside in 1955. At 77, he shows no sign of slowing down or retiring, as he 'enjoys it too much'.

With a young management team, he should keep going for years. He and John Guest are the oldest entrepreneurs on our list.

56. CAROLE NASH - Carole Nash Insurance

After a former employer closed its vintage motorcycle insurance book, Carole Nash, now 63, took over the account and used her redundancy payment to found her own insurance broking business in 1985. Turnover at Carole Nash Insurance Consultants was £834 in the first month, but now the Cheshire company claims to insure a third of Britain's motorcycles, ranging from modern superbikes to vintage Harleys. Her company's entry into the car insurance market, along with the addition of services such as alarm fitting and a dedicated repair centre, have helped 2002-03 profits grow to £1.3 million through sales of £18.8 million. Last year, Nash acquired the AA's motorcycle insurance business for an undisclosed sum.

=63. LAURENCE GRAFF - Graff Diamonds International

'The king of diamonds' is the right epithet for Laurence Graff, judging by the latest profits at his Graff Diamonds International. In 2002, the company's British operation made £16.6 million profit on £69.6 million sales, and 2003 will be even better. Graff, 66, runs the only vertically integrated diamond operation in the world, from buying stones from the miners through to polishing, cutting and then retailing. He has his roots in London's East End, where he left school at 13 determined to make his fortune. He began a Hatton Garden apprenticeship in diamonds, and started buying and selling stones. By the mid-60s, his workshop was a haunt for the mega-rich. Today, there are 11 stores worldwide and we value the operation, owned by Graff, at about £400 million. That price would not deter the many luxury-goods companies that have expressed an interest in acquiring the Graff name and operation.

69. JOHN GUEST - John Guest International

John Guest, 77, is chairman of John Guest International, a precision engineering business based in West Drayton, near Heathrow airport. The business is a world leader in plastic fittings for the plumbing and car industries. In 2003, it made £6 million profit on £78.4 million sales. Around 60% of the production is exported, and the company spends about 10% of its sales figure on capital investment. Guest and his family own all the shares in the £50 million business.

74. JOHN RANDALL - Kanes Foods

John Randall's business is a low-key but very successful vegetable processor in the West Midlands. In the year to March 2003, it made a record £5.5 million profit on sales of £54.4 million. Randall, 75, bought Kanes from quoted Hazlewood Foods in 1990 for £3 million. A good buy indeed: on its latest figures, and with a strong balance sheet and gold-plated credit rating, the company is worth £40 million, even in today's climate. This entrepreneur is also the owner of Evesham's Waterside Hotel.

79. DOROTHY PURDEW - Champneys Henlow

Celebrities flock to the three health farms owned by Chamneys Henlow. Regulars include Frank Bruno, Jimmy Savile and Barbara Windsor, while television crews are forever filming there. But Dorothy Purdew, 73, whose family owns the Bedfordshire-based operation (called Henlow Grange until the acquisition of the Champneys operation in 2002), takes it in her stride. Although the group reported a £268,000 loss on sharply higher sales of £29 million in 2002-03, that was after directors' pay of £2.3 million. Adding £2 million back to the bottom line takes the profit to around £1.7 million. With net assets of £20 million, Champneys Henlow is worth £25 million. We value the Purdew family at £28 million, taking into account past salaries and other assets.

95. ANGELA YEOMAN - Foster Yeoman

Until last month, Angela Yeoman, 73, chaired Foster Yeoman, the Shepton Mallet quarrying company founded by her late husband. Its huge trains of aggregates are frequently seen heading into London, hauled by its own American-built diesel engines. The company also has a vast quarry in Scotland, where the inside of a mountain is being literally dug out. The business is 60% owned by the Yeoman family and is worth £65 million, with a £7.3 million profit and sales of £211 million in 2002-03. That values the family stake at £39 million. We add £1 million for other assets. Yeoman has only recently stepped down from the role.

98. FRANK VAN WEZEL - Hi-Tec

Frank van Wezel comes from the Netherlands, but he has made his fortune through the sports shoe company Hi-Tec, which he set up in the UK in 1974.

He is chairman of the Southend-based group, which was a quoted company until Van Wezel, 63, took it private in a £15.7 million deal in September 2000. In 2003, it made £3.57 million profit on £93.6 million sales. Van Wezel had a 52% stake in the £30 million group at the takeover, but that has risen to more than 90% held via a Bahamas-based parent; we reckon the business should easily be worth over £20 million on these figures.

Van Wezel is a director of Southend United and no doubt hopes that the 'Shrimpers' can win promotion from Division Two this season.

99. JANET CRAWFORD - Angel Human Resources

After a career as a showgirl at London's Windmill Theatre, where she says she 'didn't mind taking her clothes off', Janet Crawford, now 70, had to leave the stage at 21 after contracting a lung disease. She went to work for a jobs agency and helped build it up to 16 branches. In 1965, she started her own company, Angel Human Resources, with a tiny office and 'lots of mouth'. In 2003 it made £241,000 profit on £17.9 million sales, and should be worth £7 million. Crawford and her family own all of it.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

When spying on your staff backfires

As Barclays' recently-scrapped tracking software shows, snooping on your colleagues is never a good idea....

A CEO’s guide to smart decision-making

You spend enough time doing it, but have you ever thought about how you do...

What Tinder can teach you about recruitment

How to make sure top talent swipes right on your business.

An Orwellian nightmare for mice: Pest control in the digital age

Case study: Rentokil’s smart mouse traps use real-time surveillance, transforming the company’s service offer.

Public failure can be the best thing that happens to you

But too often businesses stigmatise it.

Andrew Strauss: Leadership lessons from an international cricket captain

"It's more important to make the decision right than make the right decision."