Britain's Top 100 Entrepreneurs: Women of Substance

Our top female entrepreneurs' businesses include a recruitment agency, retail fashion and home accessories, a call centre and a theatre production company.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

13: PENNY STREETER - Ambition 24 Hours

For someone whose first business went bust in 1991, forcing her to move into homeless accommodation, Penny Streeter has made a remarkable recovery. Streeter launched her first recruitment agency in 1989, in expensive offices.

But recession struck and the business failed. Undeterred, she tried again, this time with a small desk in the corner of a friend's office. She and her mother worked alternate days so they could share childcare costs, and DJ'd at children's parties at weekends to make ends meet. In 1996 they moved to the high street and named themselves Ambition. The big break came when they were asked to supply care assistants for a nursing home.

Streeter trained and supplied staff, and the company began operating 24 hours a day, renaming itself Ambition 24 Hours. It has grown rapidly and diversified into the social care sector, running a locum service for doctors.

Streeter and her family wholly own the business, which made £4.4 million profit on £59 million sales in 2002-03.

16: JUDY CRAYMER - Littlestar Services

After working for Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Judy Craymer joined Tim Rice's production company, becoming executive producer on Chess. She went on to a successful career in TV and film before forming Littlestar to produce Mamma Mia, the Abba musical. That was in 1996, and she sunk all she had into it. The gamble paid off when, five years after the show opened, it had grossed $750 million from 11 productions worldwide.

Craymer owns 25% of Littlestar, which made £9 million profit in its 2002-03 accounts. With its huge success, Littlestar must be worth £200 million, which values Craymer's stake at £50 million.

20: EMMA HARRISON - Action for Employment

After messing up her A-levels, Emma Harrison joined the health service, then switched to a two-year engineering course, which she finished in eight months. She then talked her way on to a Bradford University engineering degree and on graduation joined her father's small company training engineers.

Four years later she'd built it into a £1 million business. By 1991, Harrison had started her own outsourcing business, Action for Employment, or A4E.

It outsources a variety of services, from training and education to recruitment, administration and childcare in both the public and private sectors. She owns most of the Sheffield-based firm, which is worth £50 million on the basis of profits of £4 million and sales of £60 million in 2002-03.

26: SARAH TREMELLEN - Bravissimo

'Our goal is to make big-boobed women feel good about themselves,' declares Sarah Tremellen, founder of Leamington Spa-based Bravissimo. She founded the lingerie supplier in 1995 after failing to find bras big enough when she was pregnant. It started as a mail order operation, but has expanded into retail outlets. In 2003, Bravissimo reported a £1.3 million profit on sales of £15 million. It is entirely owned by Tremellen and her family, and should be worth about £13 million.

29: CHEY GARLAND - CJ Garland & Co

Serial entrepreneur Chey Garland started her first business when she was 23, with £600 savings. Today she runs CJ Garland & Co, a Hartlepool-based call centre operation launched in 1997. It has a range of blue-chip clients, but faces tough competition from low-cost foreign rivals in India.

She motivates staff by running an in-house radio station. It works. In 2003, CJ Garland made £1.7 million profit on £16 million sales. It is wholly owned by Garland and is worth about £18 million.

31: CHRISTIAN RUCKER - The White Company

A former assistant to a wedding-dress designer, Rucker joined Conde Nast as a receptionist before joining Harpers & Queen, where she became an assistant editor. But she longed to run her own business and in 1993 started The White Company, selling white home accessories. She owns 99% of the company, which made £527,000 profit on £21.4 million sales in 2002-03.

A flair for fashionable design seems to run in the company - Rucker's husband Nick Wheeler is founder of Charles Tyrwhitt shirts.

=42: LINDA BENNETT - LK Bennett

Linda Bennett reckons she inherited the financial sense of her father, a London retail entrepreneur, and the creativity of her mother, an Icelandic sculptor.

The founder of the LK Bennett fashion group grew up in the North London suburbs, and worked on the shop floor of Whistles and Joseph before spotting a gap in the market for an outlet selling well-made shoes for an affluent public. She opened her first shop in Wimbledon and now has stores on Brook Street and King's Road, and concessions in Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and Fenwick. She has a store in Paris, and plans more in New York, LA and Japan. LK Bennett made a £1 million profit on £27 million sales in 2002-03. Bennett owns it all, and she appointed BDO Stoy Hayward in November 2004 to find strategic investors. She wants to concentrate on design, handing over the daily management to someone else.

External investment would also enable Bennett to expand the business abroad.


Jane Cavanagh started computer games company SCi in 1988 and floated it on the stock market in 1996. The London-based company is best known for its Lawnmower Man and Kingdom O'Magic games. Cavanagh's stake is worth £6.2 million. Share sales (including £5.4 million in December 1999) take her to £10 million.

=80: JUDY NAAKE - Beauty Source

'At the weekend, I can be tanning my VIPs. I tan Victoria Beckham at home. I've also done Elle MacPherson, Billie Piper and Denise Van Outen,' says Judy Naake, the queen of fake tans. She and her partner Norman Oley have made a fortune from their specialisation. She started in the sales team for John Player's cigarettes, and then became an agent for French beauty companies Decleor and Darphin before bringing the self-tanning cream from LA to Britain. Naake's company, St Tropez, is in turn managed by Beauty Source, which made £2 million profit on sales of £15.9m sales in the year to July 2003, from which Naake and Oley took out £3.3 million in salaries.

=82: DAWN GIBBINS - Flowcrete

With her father, Dawn Gibbins started Flowcrete in 1982 to develop new concepts in flooring from a factory in Cheshire. She chairs the business, where profits fell sharply from £1.8 million to £69,000 in 2003, although sales more than doubled from £14.5 million to £29.7 million. Awarded the MBE in 1994 for services to industry, she also won the Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year title in 2003. Flowcrete is easily worth £10 million on these figures, valuing the stake held by Gibbins and her husband at about £8 million.

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