Opinion

From 1997-2015: The historical high-rankers of The Hot 100 list of fast-growth British firms

10 min read

26 June 2015

Looking back throughout the history of The Hot 100, it has been made undeniably clear that the mid-market sector, Britain’s version of Germany’s “Mittelstand”, has always played a critical role in driving economic growth.

Let’s face it, nothing beats a good old list – and The Hot 100 is one of the best. Where else would you see Led Zeppelin’s first sound man, former Dragon’s Den investor Duncan Bannatyne’s gym chain, David Beckham’s Footwork Productions and the UK’s first sushi business together in the same place?

It spans back to 1997, where the cover story of the first published edition of Real Business carried The Hot 100 ranking of fast-growth UK businesses. How appropriate it was that the headlining business of the time – Nexus Media – had a magazine called “The Grower”.

Some 1,800 businesses have been profiled over the 17 years of The Hot 100. Each year, we’ve identified businesses that go on to reach lofty heights.

You may have heard of some of the featured businesses: Carphone Warehouse (1997), chip designer ARM (1998), Wagamama (2001), sandwich bar EAT (2002), Moneysupermarket.com (2004), Mind Candy (2005), Jimmy Choo (2006),  and cinema Vue Entertainment (2007).

That’s right, we had them all – and more! Ranked by average growth in turnover, in 100 different ways, these companies have showed how to withstand, even prosper, against the odds. That has been particularly true of The Hot 100 2015 list.

Read more about the 2015 Hot 100:

Salute them all, here are the previous high-rankers of the Hot 100.

1997

Number one: Magazine publisher Nexus Media 
Spread (average annual growth rate of number one company to number 100 company in %): 161-77
Notables: Carphone Warehouse (38); Carbouchon, the costume jewellery company that later went bust (5).
Big themes: The list was filled with telecoms businesses and Hot 100 business owners who’d “done their apprenticeships”. Most bosses had worked in their industry for many years.

1998

Number one: City & Financial International, a courier service delivering research to City fund managers
Spread (average annual growth rate of number one company to number 100 company in %): 165-60
Notables: Advanced Risc Machines better known as ARM, which is now a FTSE 250 company (43); Technetix, the Sussex-based technology equipment manufacturer that’s still run by CEO Paul Broadhurt (2).
Big themes: With a courier business at number one, and increasing dissatisfaction with “snail mail”, it was evident that the digital revolution was under way.

1999

Number one: IT recruiter Plexus Personnel
Spread (average annual growth rate of number one company to number 100 company in %): 112.8-55.2
Notables: At number five was a promising mail-order clothing business called Boden. The boss, Johnnie Boden, shared his thoughts on fast growth: “For us, the stretch on working capital is the clear danger of rapid expansion. Each year, we make three or four mistakes. They start out as stretched management and they end up as stretched working capital.”

2000

Number one: Progressive Computer. Founder Simon Arben also ran 15th-ranked Computer Futures Recruitment. Arber said: “This is a full-on sales environment. The sales board is on the wall. When you sign a candidate to a client, you mark it on the board. The cheer makes you feel like Michael Owen.”
Spread (average annual growth rate of number one company to number 100 company in %): 158-53
Notables: Boden (again); iconic “lava lamps” business Mathoms (44).

2001

Number one: Healthcare at Home
Spread (average annual growth rate of number one company to number 100 company in %): 224-57
Notables: Restaurant group Wagamama (95); Real Business’ publisher, which was then Caspian Publishing (31).
Big themes: Hot 100 researcher Philip Mellor said: “Looking at the past four years’ Hot 100 rankings, we’ve seen a move from 50/50 split between service and manufacturing companies to a predominance of service firms – especially in IT and recruitment.”

2002

Number one: TV producer Victoria Real
Spread (average annual growth rate of number one company to number 100 company in %): 183.2-53.4
Notables: Healthcare at Home (again); sandwich bar EAT (6); first appearance for the Hot 100’s longest-standing entrant, Centra Healthcare.
Big themes: The list was littered with mobile phone businesses such as the Mobile Phone Store and New World Payphones.

Read more to find out which year comprised Duncan Bannatyne and a football club in one list.

2003

Number one: Abertillery sofa retailer, Sofas UK
Spread (average annual growth rate of number one company to number 100 company in %): 149-41
Notables: Bannatyne Fitness, run by Duncan Bannatyne (2); Boden (again); Sophos; Cheltenham Town Football Club.
Big themes: Used cars, concrete, TV wholesalers and construction were among the fast-growth sectors.

2004

Number one: Simon Franks’ Redbus Distribution
Spread (average annual growth rate of number one company to number 100 company in %): 285–60
Notables: Carluccio’s (29); lingerie and swimwear firm Bravissimo (88).
Big themes: There were 60 different industries in the same list.

2005

Number one: Global Draw, a producer of fixed-odds betting terminals
Spread (average annual growth rate of number one company to number 100 company in %): 307.7-55.2
Notables: Innocent (3); Moneysupermarket (4); Coffee Nation (21); Littlestar, the producers of Mamma Mia the Musical (28); private members club Soho House (45); media investor Ingenious Media (47); Durbin (52); Loch Fyne restaurants (53); Portsmouth City Football Club (63); Firebox, which morphed into Mind Candy and spawned the global Moshi Monsters phenomenon (78); your old friends, Friends United (100).
Big themes: These were the entrepreneurial glory years, when the UK spawned a host of high-profile fast-growth, brand-name businesses.

2006

Number one: MX Telecom
Spread (average annual growth rate of number one company to number 100 company in %): 293-53
Notables: 99p Stores (again); Net-a-Porter (16); The Sanctuary (20); Jimmy Choo (31); care home operator Barchester (57); Capital Pub Company (59); Moneysupermarket (69); Innocent (again); David Beckham’s Footwork Productions (53); mortgage provider London & Country Homes (96); Coffee Nation (100).
Big themes: Shoes, spas, mortgages, coffee… these were the hyper years.

2007

Number one: Online electronics retailer Expansys
Spread (average annual growth rate of number one company to number 100 company in %): 391-57.6
Notables: Vue Entertainment (4); Northern Racing (25); Joe Browns (46).
Big themes: Strong performance from the healthcare and manufacturing sectors.

2008

Number one: Lance Uggla’s derivatives market data provider, Markit
Spread (average annual growth rate of number one company to number 100 company in %): 234-51
Big themes: The City years. Winton Capital, the hedge fund run by David Harding, was the most profitable, with margins at 65 per cent.

2009

Number one: Engineering design and technical recruitment business, List Group
Spread (average annual growth rate of number one company to number 100 company in %): 374-30
Big themes: “A sombre feel to this year’s list,” the introduction started. Note the lowering growth rates at the bottom end of the list.

2010

Number one: International Plywood
Spread (average annual growth rate of number one company to number 100 company in %): 390-46
Big themes: “Cash is tight. Margins are under pressure. Growth is harder to achieve.” So began the 2010 Hot 100. Real estate and construction was the biggest industry in the list, with 20 companies, but all this was about to change.

2012

Number one: Solar energy provider Alternergy
Spread (average annual growth rate of number one company to number 100 company in %): 130-29
Notables: Fewer high-profile businesses in the list, though online bike retailer Wiggle came in at 21.
Big themes: Sectors such as budget retail and outsourced services began to make a mark.

2013

Number one: Potensial, a support network for adults with learning disabilities and mental health needs
Spread (average annual growth rate of number one company to number 100 company in %): 146-29
Notables: Sun Mark, distributors of supermarket products (32); Sushi bar chain Wasabi (33).
Big themes: The era of retaining talented employees. As Sun Mark founder Rami Ranger wisely said: “Look after your staff. Money doesn’t make money; people make money.”

2014

Number one: Hamiltons Galleries, which is run by Green Shield Stamp heir Tim Jefferies  
Spread (average annual growth rate of number one company to number 100 company in %): 130.9-31.61
Notables: Ed’s Easy Diner (12); Children’s clothes designer Childrensalon (22); Thai restaurant chain Busaba Eathai (96).
Big themes: The role of manufacturers and exporters in driving the UK’s economy forward was made evident in the 2014 Hot 100.

Visit the complete Hot 100 2015 list