Enterprise Nation - MT's Top 100 Entrepreneurs

If Britain is bursting with commercial energy while others economies are flatlining, we have our independent business builders to thank. We name the best.

by Philip Beresford
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Britain's entrepreneurs are the true heroes of the British economy. They are the people flying the flag for business and giving us a future, and we laud them at MT in our first-ever listing of those we consider to be the Top 100 entrepreneurs of today. The 100 (click to download PDF of table)are drawn from a wide range of businesses, from recruitment to concrete flooring by way of bras and anti-virus software. Yet, for all their disparity, they have in the past five years created nearly 20,000 extra private-sector, taxpaying and above-the-board jobs that have helped to fund at least part of the huge increase in public spending. Today, they employ nearly 40,000 staff, so they have effectively doubled their workforce in that time. If the rest of British business could match that, unemployment would disappear at a stroke. Leading the pack is Dinesh Dhamija, founder of the fast-growing ebookers travel oper- ation and living proof that there are survivors from the dot.com age who can indeed prosper. The other 99 are an extremely diverse group, demonstrating that there is no one face of British entrepreneurship. Their ages range from 30 to 76, and the group is made up of men and women from across the UK, with widely differing backgrounds. Collectively, they have created an extra £3 billion of sales over that five-year period, taking their sales to £4.7 billion, according to their latest annual reports (and this total is likely to have grown sharply since). These are not the fat cats of industry, paid for failure as well as success. True, they have valuable stakes in their businesses, totalling about £4.6 billion, but all the more reason for them to nurture what they have planted. Our listed entrepreneurs do not run Britain's biggest businesses. We are interested here in tomorrow's Richard Bransons rather than today's. With one or two exceptions, we've tried to restrict the turnover limit of the companies included to £100 million and they do not earn their place simply by virtue of fastest growth. What we have here is a cross-section of British business in terms of geography, industry, gender and ethnicity. The only constant is that their businesses are all profitable or about to make impressive profits. We don't record the profit growth, though, preferring to measure how well they have developed sales and employment over the past five years. Yet we recognise that a dynamic business needs to make good and sustained profits. The dot.com meltdown of three years ago reminds us what happens if you neglect the bottom line. So what does it take to belong to this elite group? The first thing to acknowledge is that it's a largely male list –79 of the 100 entrepreneurs are men. But proponents of more women in business need not despair: we've found 21 extraordinarily talented women, and the one-in-five ratio is far better than that to be found in the boardrooms of the FTSE 100 firms, where women are still rare. Moreover, there are more females in the younger reaches of the list – surely a sign that younger generations of women are embracing entrepreneurship. Forty-five of the MT 100 are from London or the south-east, with the Midlands a distant second at 18 and the north-west third with 11. The south-east is actually under-represented here in terms of its economic weight in the British economy – which is no bad thing. It means that entrepreneurial talent is flourishing elsewhere and augurs well for a better- balanced shape to the British economy. But what qualities stand out among our 100 entrepreneurs? They all possess three salient characteristics in varying degrees, whether they started a business or revitalised a longstanding family concern (we do not distinguish between them in terms of entrepreneurial activity). First, there's the ability to take a risk and court real financial disaster if all were to go wrong. For example, Peter Cruddas of CMC (number 3) was prepared to sink £30 million of his own money into developing a new financial trading software system that had been turned down by all the leading players in the business with much deeper pockets. As a result, his company is now well ahead in this field. Equally, Michael Clare (number 71) gave up a safe and secure job as an area manager and borrowed against his house to open the first Dreams retail outlet. Christian Rucker (number 32) gave up the glamour of Harpers & Queen for the insecurity of starting The White Company. But our entrepreneurs were not stepping into the unknown. Their second quality is the insight to identify a gap in the market. Not for them the equivalent of opening a grocery store on a street where nine similar businesses are flourishing. They start, or adapt, a business that offers unique products or service. Sarah Tremellen (number 26) could not find a bra that was comfortable when she was pregnant and decided that the paucity of bras for larger women suggested a business opportunity. She launched the hugely successful Bravissimo, and her clever designs have kept her ahead of the established opposition. Given a Peugeot 205 to drive when his BMW was damaged, Richard Abel (number 12) saw an opportunity for supplying luxury car owners with a decent temporary replacement in the event of a crash. Thus was born the successful Bristol & London Accident Management operation. The third characteristic of our MT 100 personalities is their perseverance in achieving goals. It took Hamish Ogston (number 4) 10 years to move the CPP card protection operation into profit, but not once did he give up. For her part, Penny Streeter (number 13) stuck with the recruitment business even after the failure of her first foray into the field, and tried again with Ambition 24 – crucially, she'd learnt to control her cost base second time around. Productivity improvement is another key strength of our Top 100. For while employment at their firms went up by about 100% in five years, output (as measured by turnover) rose 154%, a recipe for success that the rest of British business would surely wish to emulate. And yet our MT 100 have achieved this in the face of virtual indifference from the Bank of England's monetary policy committee, a Government that is constantly accused of creating layers of red tape and stealth taxes, and an economic climate in which overseas competition is more vicious than ever. Truly, the MT 100 and all those entrepreneurs who have not yet made it to this list are the real heroes.

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