MT Britain's Top 100 Entrepreneurs 2007

Premier league Our top-notch wealth creators this year are led by five money-meisters, mostly from modest backgrounds. Behind them, though, the field widens ... 1. PETER CRUDDAS - CMC Group

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

If it moves, City slicker Peter Cruddas trades it. Equities, indices, derivatives, commodities, oil, currencies - these are CMC's business. The only thing he leaves to others is sport betting. The cash is pouring in, enabling owner and founder Cruddas to take a £31m salary in 2004-05. With offices in Europe and Asia, CMC is a market leader in internet financial spread-betting, contracts for difference and foreign exchange. It is also an online market-maker, and runs a share service for private investors.

Cruddas employs some very bright techies, who have built software that gives CMC a competitive edge on pricing - technology that he now sells to other financial groups. In 2005-06, CMC made £36.7m operating profits, and last summer's delayed flotation is back on track with a valuation of at least £800m.

Yet Cruddas comes from a very modest background - he left Shoreditch Comprehensive School in the East End of London at 15 to help support his family. Mum was a cleaner and dad a Smithfield market meat porter. After starting out as a Western Union telex operator and doing odd jobs in banks and brokerages, he launched CMC in 1989 with his savings of £10,000. Until the flotation, Cruddas has a stake worth around £738m. His past salaries, his Monaco home and other property take him to around £800m.

2. SIMON NIXON - Moneysupermarket.com

Personal finance information website Moneysupermarket.com is one of the few real Brit.com success stories. For co-founder Simon Nixon, dropping out of university was his passport to a fortune, as 2005's profits prove - up to £17.1m from £15.8m on sales of £68m. In 2006, his company expects to do even better, forecasting profits of £30m on £100m sales. His first business was a service called Mortgage 2000, founded with Duncan Cameron. It provided mortgage brokers with weekly product updates, and evolved into a trade magazine, Broker Update. The explosive growth of the internet posed 'massive threats to our business - but also huge opportunities', he recalls.

Nixon and Cameron (who has since left the company but remains a shareholder) set up their own site for surfers to compare quotes for mortgages, credit cards, personal loans and savings accounts. It was a phenomenal success. The Chester-based operation sells 7,000 personal loans a day, 6,000 credit cards and more than 1,000 savings accounts. New sister site travelsupermarket.com covers flights and will shortly offer car hire and hotels, too.

But Nixon is pretty tight with his own money. He bakes his own bread and, although he loves Ferraris, won't own more than one: 'I'm dead tight and I hate paying tax and insurance on two cars,' he says. The recent sale of uSwitch (a comparable business) prompted Nixon to claim that Moneysupermarket.com now has a 'valuation in the region of £1 billion'. We can't argue with that. His stake is now worth £474m. We add £6m for past dividends and other assets.

3. TERRY SMITH - Collins Stewart Tullett

The son of an East End bus driver, Terry Smith is well known in the City as the combative chief executive of the Collins Stewart Tullett stockbroking operation.

Smith first came to prominence as a City analyst in 1992 for writing a controversial book showing how companies fiddle their profits. He also took on the FT and forced a grovelling apology out of the Pink 'Un at the beginning of last year. A boxing fan who lives in Essex, Smith led the management buyout of the business in May 2000 for £122m.

The company floated on the stock market in October 2000 and has grown since by taking over smaller rivals in the City and moving into new markets. In recent times, it has itself been the subject of intense takeover speculation, which has further boosted Smith's bank balance. His stake is now worth more than £77m since shares rose to a record high in late 2006. Salaries, property and bonuses take him to at least £85m.

4. ANDREW TURNER - Central Trust

In April 2006, Andrew Turner of Central Trust announced ambitious plans to boost his turnover to £1bn by 2010, and recruit up to 1,500 new staff in the process. An accountant by trade, Turner had set up the firm in 1987 in a small London office as a broker and lender of secured loans in the consumer finance sector. Now based in Norwich, Central Trust has a principal subsidiary that is one of the largest independent finance brokers offering loans to UK homeowners; other subsidiaries operate in the loan packaging, mortgage packaging and telemarketing sectors.

Central Trust profits and sales have surged on the back of the consumer borrowing spree and in 2005 it made a record £27.1m profit on £86.1m sales. On these figures, it's worth about £240m.

Turner recently launched a new computer system that he reckons will give Central Trust even more competitive advantage. His goal is to make the company (which he owns in its entirety) Britain's leading independent supplier of personal finance products. It's a demanding target, but few would bet against this low-key numbers man pulling it off.

5. ELENA AMBROSIADOU - Ikos (UK)

This will be the last appearance in the MT 100 for one of Britain's most successful female entrepreneurs. Greek-born Elena Ambrosiadou is moving her entire hedge fund operation, Ikos (UK), to Cyprus, where she reckons to have a better chance of growing the business.

Ikos (UK) was started in 1992 by Ambrosiadou after she left BP, having risen to become its youngest-ever senior executive at the age of 27. As a private experiment, she put $100,000 of her own money into an account that would trade foreign exchange based on a computer program she had designed. When the fund went up 50% in two years, she decided to call it Ikos ('home' in Greek) and work on it full-time.

Ikos now has $2.8bn under management and one of its flagship funds has reported returns of 25.8% in the first half of a very tough 2005 for the industry. Ikos should easily be worth £120m, given the values ascribed to good hedge funds in the current climate. In 2004, she took a salary and dividends of nearly £15.9m, making her the best-paid female executive in Britain. Ambrosiadou has a five-year plan to grow the assets under management to $10bn by 2010.

=6. RANJIT AND BALJINDER SINGH - Boparan Holdings

Expansion is in the air - along with chicken feathers - at Two Sisters, the Singh's West Midlands-based poultry processor. A £6m investment at its Scunthorpe plant was the biggest ever in the history of the facility and was described as a 'serious commitment to the future of the town' by chief executive Ranjit Singh, who with his wife Baljinder wholly owns parent company Boparan Holdings. Boparan also recently acquired John Rannoch in Suffolk, an operation producing premium-quality roast and breaded chicken products for the retail and food-service markets.

With more than seven sites around Britain, Smethwick-based Boparan is best known for its Buxted chickens brand. In the year to July 2004, profits soared from £3.4m to £18.8m on sales up £40m at £326.8m.

Processed chicken may be unfashionable among the chattering classes these days, but it's clearly still highly profitable. On these figures, we value the company at about £100m. Ranjit and Baljinder Singh have taken more than £22.7m in dividends since 2000, so we value the couple at around £110m after tax and including other assets such as farms.

=6 ALLEN TIMPANY - Vanco

Telecom group Vanco recently unveiled a new service that allows its customers to check quickly the availability and pricing of broadband connections on a global basis. Middlesex-based Vanco works with more than 650 network partners to deliver those connections, and the new offer should sharply increase the firm's sales and reach in the highly competitive telecom market.

But this is par for the course for Vanco's CEO, Allen Timpany. A serial entrepreneur, his first business was Guestel, an Apple Computer dealer, in 1980. He sold it four years later and went on to launch and sell several other high-tech businesses.

His best deal was to respond to an ad in the FT in 1989 to buy Vanco, then a loss-making data services company, for just £1. A virtual network operator (it's not itself a carrier but resells bandwidth and services supplied by other carriers), Vanco provides communications networking services to corporate customers around the world, including Avis, Ford and Siemens. It recently bought the assets of Chicago-based network services provider Universal Access Global Holdings, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2004, for about $22m.

Timpany floated Vanco on the stock market in late 2001 - the first successful flotation after 9/11. Its value has soared and that £1 purchase has been turned into a stake worth more than £133m. He sold £1.9m worth of shares in September 2004. Timpany is easily worth £136m.

8. PETER AND DENISE COATES - BET Group

Potteries-based Peter Coates is an unsentimental success story. He opened three bookie's shops in 1974, eventually building up the Provincial racing chain to 49 branches. But when Bet365, the online betting website masterminded by daughter Denise seven years ago, started to take off, he didn't hesitate to flog the shops to concentrate on the internet side. The sale of the chain in 2005 netted a useful £40m.

Founded with an initial £12m investment, Bet365 made £3.8m profit on sales of £608m in 2004-05 and, now valued at £110m, it has developed into a leading gambling website.

Although it is bookmaking that has made him a wealthy man, Coates pere made his first foray into business in 1968 with Stadia Catering, providing food and drink to football clubs up and down the country. A lifelong Stoke City fan, in May 2006 he spent £10m to take over the club for the second time, buying out the Icelandic consortium to whom he sold his 66% stake first time round in 1998. 'I'm 68 years old and have all the money I need. I don't need to be making a £10m-plus investment into a football club which is losing money. It's clearly not a sensible financial investment,' he said at the time.

With assets in Bet365 and proceeds from the sale of other businesses, the Coates family should easily be worth £126m after tax.

9. JUDY CRAYMER - Littlestar Services

Judy Craymer was working as an assistant to theatre producer Sir Tim Rice in the 1980s when she met the men who were to spark her obsession: Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson of Swedish pop supergroup Abba. They were writing for Rice's musical Chess. 'I was never a huge Abba fan as a teenager but, after meeting Bjorn and Benny, I became hooked. I thought, bloody hell, these are the men who wrote Dancing Queen,' she recalls.

In 1995, she hit on the idea of a musical and, after years of hard work and persuasion, got the Abba boys' approval, on the condition that she'd find someone to write a decent script. 'All my friends thought I was crazy,' she says. 'They said Abba was so passe and I should get over it. But I knew everyone would want to see the musical.'

Mamma Mia! opened in 1999 and has since been seen by 24 million people worldwide. For Littlestar Services, the company behind the phenomenally successful show, profits hit £8m on sales of £24.3m in 2004-05, as new productions of the musical opened on Broadway and Stockholm (Moscow is the latest city to fall for its discotastic appeal). Craymer's stake in Littlestar is now worth £60m and we add £18m for other assets, past salaries and dividends.

10. ANTHONY LANGLEY - Langley Holdings

Tony Langley seems intent on proving wrong the doom-mongers who lament the fading of British industry. In 2005, engineering group Langley Holdings made a healthy £14m profit on £224.5m sales, its 25 subsidiary companies doing everything from making cement cooling machines and dockside cranes to building houses.

In 1976, aged 22, Langley resurrected what is now Retford-based Langley Holdings from the ashes of his grandfather's engineering business. Originally, it provided services to the coal industry, but with the demise of that sector, Langley became the multi-disciplinary group it is today.

Tony has expanded rapidly in 'old economy' markets such as steel, rail and electricity, proving his tremendous eye for identifying and acquiring unwanted divisions of larger corporates. In late 2000, he took over Clarke Chapman, the materials-handling business of Rolls-Royce, nearly tripling the size of his firm overnight. Twelve months later, Langley bought Hamburg-based Claudius Peters Group, followed by BMH Americas, both acquired from Babcock. In January 2005, the company bought RWE Pillar, a German supplier of uninterruptible power supplies to industry.

=11. MIKE ASHLEY - Sportsworld International

Britain's most reclusive tycoon just loves brands. Mike Ashley, founder and owner of the Sportsworld International group, already owns the Dunlop Slazenger, Karrimor and Lonsdale brands, as well as the Sportsworld chain and the iconic Lillywhite's store in central London.

Now he is buying up shares in Blacks Leisure, which owns the Blacks, Milletts, Free Spirit, Mambo and O'Neill chains. With a stake of nearly 30% as MT went to press, he is reckoned by City analysts to be preparing a full bid for Blacks that could cost him £200m.

But who is Britain's answer to Howard Hughes? After leaving school at 16, Ashley began trading on the high street, opening sports shops in and around London. By 1990, he had three outlets, trading under the Sports Soccer name. He opened 100 or so more over the next 10 years. He acquired Lillywhites in 2002, turning a genteel store into a pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap bazaar.

He picks up cheap the rights to has-been labels such as tennis and golf brand Donnay and boxing label Lonsdale and revives them. He snapped up Dunlop Slazenger and hiking brand Karrimor in 2004. He likes to scare rivals such as JJB Sports and JD Sports by taking stakes, which he later sells.

At Sportsworld, he pulls in shoppers with big discounts on prestige brands like Reebok, Adidas and Nike. Customers then spend on Ashley's own brands - which have been stretched so far that the Lonsdale label now adorns toddlers' tracksuits in pink velour. But they generate high profit margins. In 2004-05, profits at Dunstable-based Sportsworld rose to £74.4m on sales of £905.4m.

=11. FRED & PETER DONE - Done Brothers (Cash Betting) and Peninsular Business Services. See Family Fortunes

=11. FRED & PETER DONE - Done Brothers (Cash Betting) & Peninsular Business Services

Fred Done put a £250,000 bet on England winning the World Cup last year at odds of 10-1. 'In 1966, I was earning £25 a week and put a bet on for £200. England did the business for me then.' This time he could afford to lose. With his brother Peter, Fred was raised on Salford's tough Ordsall estate in the 1950s. They started out as bookie's runners for their father. From a single shop, the pair now own Britain's sixth-largest bookie's chain. Fred's Betfred online gambling operation is growing at breakneck speed on the back of online (and real world) poker tournaments. It was brother Peter, though, who 20 years ago started up lucrative Peninsular Business Services as a legal advice sideline. The Dones' main betting operation has a parent company called Lightcatch, which in 2004-05 made just £1.2m profit on £751m sales. But adding in the brothers' salaries of £10.8m takes the bottom line to £12m. Leaguename, Peninsular's parent, made a good £5.6m profit on £45.19m sales in 2004-05. Add the £3.3m directors' pay and the profit is nearly £9m. Done operations should be worth £230m. With about £45m in salaries and dividends over 10 years, we add £30m to take the brothers' worth to £260m.

13. STEPHEN & PAUL HARRISON - Harron Group

Run by brothers Paul and Stephen Harrison, Harron Homes is so low-profile that many in the industry haven't heard of it. Yet it has already expanded beyond its own North Yorkshire turf, with developments in the north-west and the north Midlands. The firm builds about 350 homes each year, including apartments and social housing, in line with current government quotas. Strong demand and rising house prices have helped profits at Northallerton-based Harron leap from £9.3m profit to nearly £17m on sales of £67.3m in the year to June 2005. On these results, it's easily worth £90m.

=32. MARK & MO CONSTANTINE - Lush Cosmetics

With its 'handmade' strapline, focus on fresh, natural ingredients and wackily named products like Buffy the Backside Slayer, Lush Cosmetics stores have won a strong high street presence. Lush was the brainchild of Mark Constantine and his wife Mo, the name apparently suggested by a customer. Mark cut his teeth in the business supplying Body Shop, and set up his own shop in Poole. Until 1995, this was the only outlet, but today there are 379 scattered across the globe, including more than 20 in the US. The manufacturing base in Poole looks more like a hotel kitchen than a factory, with racks of giant saucepans hanging above steel worktops, while giant blenders whisk up organic ingredients into bath and beauty products. The Constantines own half the business, which made £9.7m profit on £74.4m sales in the year to June 2005.

=32. DAVID & LUISA SCACCHETTI - Mamas and Papas

With 32 stores in Britain and products that sell worldwide, Huddersfield-based pram and buggy business Mamas and Papas goes from strength to strength. It has now opened a London design studio to help new product development and maintain its position as the leading nursery brand in the UK. In 2004-05, it turned in £5.1m profit on £92.5m sales, having diversified into baby clothes, toys and furniture as well as prams and buggies. The business was started in 1980 after Luisa Scacchetti's vain search in the UK for a stylish pram. She tried her native Italy; the pram she brought back was such a hit with friends and neighbours that she opened a shop to sell them. The Mamas and Papas business is run and owned by Scacchetti and her husband, David.

44. DAVID & ROBERT LANGMEAD - Natures Way Foods

As the newest functional food fashion, vitamin and mineral-rich seeds and pulses could take the prepared fresh produce sector by storm. And Natures Way Foods and Langmead Farms are leading the charge. The Langmead family, led by David and Robert, has extensive farming interests in the Chichester area, supplying prepared salads and fresh produce. It counts Tesco, Sainsbury and Morrisons among its customers. Natures Way Foods made £2.8m profit on £72.5m sales in 2004-05.

65. DOUGLAS & IAIN ANDERSON - GAP Holdings

Glasgow-based tool- and plant-hire outfit GAP Group has made its first acquisition in a long time: Lincoln-based J&S Plant provides GAP with its 56th depot. But the move doesn't signal a change of policy: GAP's focus remains largely on developing greenfield sites, with two more openings (Swansea and south London) in prospect this financial year. The group, employing 700-plus and now the UK's biggest independent tool- and plant-hire concern, was founded in 1969 by the late Gordon Anderson. It's now run and largely owned by his sons Douglas and Iain. In the year to March, GAP increased its profits from £7.6m to £8.1m on sales up £12m at £69m.

67. TIM & KIT KEMP - Firmdale Hotels

Over the past two decades, Tim and Kit Kemp have built themselves a tidy portfolio of six boutique hotels in central London. The latest - the Soho Hotel, on the site of an old NCP car park - opened in 2004 to rave reviews. Kit is the design brains, while husband Tim does the property deals, spotting promising sites as he cycles around the capital. Tackling their projects one at a time, they supervise every detail, growing steadily, with the rare luxury of maintaining full control of the firm. The Kemps started with student accommodation in east London, launching their first hotel, Dorset Square, in 1985. Their seventh, the 58-room Haymarket, is due to open this spring. Net assets at their main company, Firmdale Holdings, leapt from £65.5m to £84.9m in 2005-06.

69. AFZAL & AKMAL KHUSHI - Jacobs & Turner

In June 2006, Afzal Khushi, MD of Jacobs & Turner, received a CBE for services to business in Scotland. It's easy to see why. With his brother Akmal, he has made the Glasgow-based ski and sports-wear manufacturer and wholesaler into a world beater. Trading under the Trespass brand name, the business (owned by the family since 1966) has expanded from winterwear into sportswear, summer clothing and skiwear. The brothers now have 24 retail outlets in the UK, plus franchises covering Holland, Spain and Denmark. Trespass gear is exported to 50 countries. J&T made £11.3m profit on £40m sales in the year to June '05.

=72. STEPHEN & SARAH THOMSON - Thomson Intermedia

Founded in 1997 with just £30,000 by ex-Mintel directors Stephen Thomson and his wife Sarah, Bromley-based Thomson Intermedia floated on AIM in 2000 with a £30m valuation. The firm provides media intelligence and ad tracking services to 300 clients, including Diageo, the BBC, Cahoot and other blue-chips. A recent tie-up with a subsidiary of Martin Sorrell's giant WPP ad group was seen as a breakthrough by the City; shares have soared as a result and the company is now worth nearly £78m.

17. JANE CAVANAGH - SCi Entertainment Group

After its agreed £106m takeover of arch-rival Eidos in April 2005, Jane Cavanagh's SCi is now the UK's largest computer games publisher, with a stock market value of £395m and 17 new releases planned for 2007. The London-based group best known for Lawnmower Man, Conflict and Kingdom O Magic games, was founded by ex-BT executive Cavanagh in 1988. Now one of the nation's wealthiest women, she's a rare female success in a male-dominated industry. SCi sold 11.5m units in the year to June 2006 and made a profit of £8.1m on sales of £179.1m. With shares buoyant on takeover hopes, her stake is worth £25m-plus. Share sales take her to circa £30m.

18. CHRISTIAN RUCKER - The White Company

Christian Rucker studied fashion first, and then journalism at Cambridge, landing a job at Harpers & Queen. But wanting to run her own show, she started The White Company in 1994, selling bedlinen and homewares via mail-order and on-line; she now has shops in many of Britain's cities and out-of-town malls. She appointed Patricia Burnett as MD in July. Those luxury cotton sheets have insulated the firm from the retail downturn (sales up £11m in 2004-05 to nearly £40m) and proved a goldmine for Rucker: her salary rose from £1.5m to over £2m. Husband Nick Wheeler is the founder of successful shirt retailer Charles Tyrwhitt.

=27. PENNY STREETER - Ambition Recruitment Services

Last year, Penny Streeter relocated part of her Ambition 24 recruitment operation to South Africa. But she remains committed to the UK, with 19 offices here and 13,000 clients on her books. Her first enterprise went bust in 1991, leaving her homeless. Second time around, she was more frugal, taking a desk in a friend's office. Her big break came when she was asked to supply care assistants for a nursing home. She started training and supplying staff, often driving them to work herself. The Croydon-based operation (founded in 1996), was soon meeting a strong demand for qualified nursing staff. Having diversified into social care, Streeter runs a locum service for doctors and plans a move into private healthcare. She and her family own all the business, which made £6.8m profit on £59.1m sales in 2004-05.

40. CHEY GARLAND - CJ Garland & Co

Chey Garland is doing her bit to stem the flow of call-centre business to India. In October, her business, CJ Garland, created more than 80 new jobs on Teesside after winning a customer service contract from easyJet. Three months earlier, it took on 250 staff to provide call-centre services for Carphone's TalkTalk packages. The firm has contracts with Vodafone and Virgin Mobile too. Garland, who left school at 16, started her first business at 23 with £600. Hartlepool-based CJ Garland was set up in 1997. She uses a variety of novel initiatives to motivate staff, including sculptures, water features, plasma screens, chill-out zones and Radio GaGa, the firm's own radio station. Then there are themed events and the Heaven and Hell days (don't ask). It works - in 2005, profits came in at £1.4m on £36.3m sales.

49. EDWINA DUNN (WITH CLIVE HUMBY) - Dunnhumby

Most people have never heard of Edwina Dunn, but she's heard of you. If you shop at Tesco she probably knows where you live, your favourite brand of tomato soup and how often you go on holiday. She and her mathematician husband Clive Humby are the brains behind Tesco's highly successful Clubcard, a scheme that tracks customer behaviour to an astonishing degree. Dunnhumby cross-references all of Tesco's customer statistics with census data and a raft of other sources so it can work out whether, say, single white mothers in Hackney prefer Pampers to Huggies. Tesco then adjusts its local stocks and promotions accordingly. In 2004-05, West London-based Dunnhumby's profits came in at £8.4m on sales of £36.4m and it's on course to make £13m in 2005-06. Tesco has now increased its stake from 53% to 83% by buying shares from both founders.

=55. SARAH TREMELLEN - Bravissimo

Set up in 1995 as a mail-order company operating from founder Sarah Tremellen's sitting room, lingerie supplier Bravissimo is now a multi-million pound award-winning business, with retail mail order, online shopping and 11 high street stores. A former marketing professional, Tremellen founded the firm in Leamington Spa after failing to find stylish, comfortable bras in big enough sizes when she was pregnant. Owned by Tremellen and her family, the firm reported a £1.1m profit on sales of £24.8m in 2004-05.

61. EMMA HARRISON - A4E

Having spent 15 years helping the unemployed to find work, Emma Harrison is now looking to start a bank aimed at poor and disadvantaged communities. The founder of A4E (formerly Action For Employment) hopes to have three trial branches operating within 18 months. The venture could cost up to £100m, and Harrison aims to have a million customers within six years. She has earned her success the hard way. After messing up her A-levels, she had a brief stint in the NHS before graduating as an engineer in 1987 and running her father's business training engineers. Having built it into a £1m operation, Harrison left in 1991 to start A4E. She owns most of the Sheffield-based firm, which made £3.9m in profit on £75.7m sales in 2004-05.

=77. ELIZABETH GOOCH - EG Solutions

Staffordshire software services business EG Solutions was founded by Elizabeth Gooch in 1988. Working as a bank consultant to manufacturing firms, she hit on the idea of applying lean production techniques to the financial services market. Clients such as HBOS, Morgan Stanley and Scottish Equitable use EG's software to reorganise their back offices. Having increased revenues by more than 36% in first-half 2006-07, EG Solutions is tackling export markets in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, US and South Africa. In June 2005, EG Solutions floated on AIM at £13.5m. It's now worth £20.5m-plus.

97. SUZANNE MARSHALL - Phoenix Software

The software operation co-founded by Suzanne Marshall in 1990 has built a profitable niche in volume software licensing for local government, corporates, the voluntary sector and education. As regulatory burdens increase, demand for Phoenix's services should wax. Profits at its parent were £1.9m on £51.8m sales in the year to October 2005, making it a force to be reckoned with in the York region: the firm recently moved to a new site in Pocklington, east of the city.

97. SHELAGH ELKINS - Tectrade Computers

Shelagh Elkins founded Godalming-based Tectrade in 1991 as a mainframe and mid-range server reseller, but in '97 it branched out into data and storage management. The UK business focuses on backup and recovery, archiving and data storage infrastructure. Clients include Toyota GB, AmEx, Powergen and several police forces. Elkins chairs the burgeoning firm, which made £750,000 profit on £19.6m sales in 2005-06.

29. ALAN DICK, 68 - Alan Dick & Co

This is the man who makes those mobile phone base stations that look like trees. He founded Alan Dick & Co in 1971, initially erecting TV transmitters for the BBC. But the firm really got going in the 1990s mobile phone boom, when demand soared for its commercial antennae. Dick developed a range of specialised structures with a low environmental impact. Rumours that a sale was in the offing a couple of years ago, based on a £200m valuation, have so far proved unfounded. Meanwhile, Dick is refocusing on overseas expansion with a £46m war chest, as his British business has hit a downturn. Yet he still made £2.5m profit on £178m sales in 2004-05.

46. HAROLD MARTIN, 71 - HW Martin Holdings

Crawling along past lines of traffic cones in motorway jams is no fun, but when it happens to Harold Martin, he can afford to smile - they're probably his own. This low-key entrepreneur makes a fortune from roadworks; his traffic management division handles everything from motorway contraflows to urban road closures and city festivals. Similarly lucrative lines include safety fencing, plant hire and maintenance, and recycling and waste management. His Derbyshire-based company, HW Martin Holdings, founded in 1976, is headquartered on a 13-acre site beside the M1. Clients include the Highways Agency, HM Prison Service and the MOD. In the year to July 2005, sales of £47.8m (up nearly £4m) yielded profits of £5.7m.

50. SIR ARNOLD CLARK, 79 - Arnold Clark Automobiles

He may be pushing 80 but car salesman extraordinaire Sir Arnold Clark shows no signs of taking his foot off the gas. His Arnold Clark Autos pushed profits up by 25% in the first half of 2006. Clark opened his first car dealership in Glasgow's Kelvinside in 1955 and his firm is now the largest independent car dealer in the UK, with more than 100 branches in Scotland and at least 30 in England. Clark has invested heavily in the regeneration of Glasgow's West End and in the Glasgow Training Group, which runs a sales exec course called Arnold's Academy. His racing yacht Drum is a common sight on the Clyde, and when he's not sailing it, he lets it out for hire. In 2005 Clark's business turned in profits of £54m on £1.7bn sales.

=75. JOHN RANDALL, 77 - Kanes Foods

John Randall bought Kanes Foods from the quoted Hazlewood Foods for £3m in 1990. It proved a shrewd investment; in 2004-05, Kanes' parent KF Investments made £6.4m profit on sales of £67.4m. Randall still owns all the shares. Success has not been without its trials, though, for the Vale of Evesham-based producer of chilled salads, stir-fry vegetables and sauces and coleslaw. Kanes has run into local protest over plans to expand a 20-acre production and distribution site. The current boom in the popularity of functional foods should help to keep Randall's business going strong for a while yet.

79. BRIAN & ALAN STANNAH, 71 AND 67 - Stannah Family Holdings

As the owners of Stannah Holdings, brothers Brian and Alan Stannah know all about grey power. The demographic shift is accelerating demand for the Andover-based firm's products engineered expressly for the chronologically challenged. The company makes and maintains lifts, stairlifts and powered chairs for the elderly, as well as all types of passenger and goods lifts. It recently invested £3.5m to build a new 64,500 sq ft factory in Newcastle. Joseph Stannah founded the business in 1860, trialling hand-operated lifts. Nearly 150 years on, Stannah remains a family business, run and owned by the fourth generation. It has subsidiaries in Holland, Italy and North America and operates in more than 50 countries. In 2005, profits hit a record £11.17m on sales of £137.5m.

83. IAN SCARR-HALL, 68 - GSH Group

In 1895, George Hall set up a small company in Stoke-on-Trent to look after the boilers and kilns of the numerous factories of the Potteries. He had just five employees. Today, the kilns have gone, but the business - now called GSH - remains, controlled by his descendants. GSH provides facilities management services to large corporate clients, including HBOS, Ikea and M&S. Ian Scarr-Hall is president of the firm, which floated on the stock market in May 2005, valued at £40m. Two years earlier, he'd made Scottish headlines when he joined forces with the inhabitants of the Hebridean island of Harris to buy the Amhuinnsuidhe estate for £2m. He took over the castle, grounds and fishing rights and left the rest of the 55,000-acre estate to be run by the locals.

88. JOHN GUEST, 79 - John Guest International

A generation of DIY enthusiasts has come to thank John Guest for its most famous innovation - the plastic push-in pipe fitting. The Speedfit fittings have proved popular with the trade, too, and the firm won a Queen's Award for Innovation in 2005 as a result. The West Drayton-based business was started by John Guest in 1961, and is now one of the world's biggest makers of plastic pipe fittings for the plumbing and car industries. The family-owned operation is chaired by Guest, and his three sons are directors. In 2005, it made £5.9m profit on £85.4m sales. The business has operations worldwide, including the US, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea. About 60% of production is exported and the firm spends roughly 10% of its sales figure on capital investment.

89. DAME MARGARET BARBOUR, 66 - J Barbour & Sons

Margaret Barbour has managed to keep the waxed cotton jacket - first produced by her forebear John in 1909 for motorcyclists, submariners and outdoorsmen - at the forefront of county fashion. When another Dame, Helen Mirren, wore a Barbour for her title role in the movie The Queen last year, she helped sales of the famous waxed jacket to soar round the world, particularly in America. When her husband John died tragically young, Margaret Barbour took over the reins at the South Shields business and has overseen huge expansion since. In the year to December 2005, profits soared to £4.8m on sales of £54m. Results for 2006 should be even better.

100. CHRISTOPHER DUNCAN, 67 - Numatic International

Christopher Duncan owns Numatic International, best known for its Henry range of domestic vacuum cleaners, cheery machines that are liked by many in the trade, too. Somerset-based Numatic, founded in 1969, also produces industrial cleaners and floor polishers. In the early days the firm employed six, the factory was tiny and its most sophisticated piece of equipment was a drill. The first designs, knocked together like something from Scrapheap Challenge, incorporated oil drums, suitcase handles, furniture castors and washing-up bowls. With steady profits and a strong balance sheet, Numatic is the sort of industrial business the nation could do with more of. In 2005 it made a profit of £3.2m on sales of nearly £78m and showed net assets of £27m.

FAMILY FORTUNES - Five brotherly partnerships and four husband-and-wife teams from our table show you don't have to be an eccentric loner to drive a successful SME

WINNING WOMEN - The distaff side of our list proves that females and computers can mix profitably - from games to high finance. There's a compassionate thread here too

SOARAWAY SILVERTOPS: Pardon our ageism, but this is our salute to grey power: the older hands who, far from retiring, keep pushing their enterprises to new heights.

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