Management Today's cover story this month on page 32 focuses on Britain's biggest privately owned companies. And about time too, we might say, since this area is one of our economy's best-kept secrets. For all the media coverage they get, one might think that the companies that make up this sector are at best unfashionable, at worst moribund.
Far from it. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about them is just how big some of them are, and how they've managed to get there without being noticed. Sure, we've all heard of the Swire Group, Tetra Pak, Littlewoods and Virgin. But what about Linpac, a Lincolnshire packaging company with a turnover in excess of £850 million? Or Computacenter, which started in 1981 and is now closing in on its goal of a £1 billion turnover? Many of us may know of the Oxford-based Blackwell's bookshop chain, but did it really report a turnover of £420 million in 1996? Then again, few of us will have come across the sugar, dried fruit and nut trading and processing company Napier Brown - and if we have, would it be a surprise to know it was a £430-million company?
The answer to this, one suspects, is that these companies just get on with their business, freed from the distractions, pressures and impediments that often come with public ownership.