Normally, we’d be introducing this year’s Hot 100 list with gusto and fanfare. We’d be wowing you with another jumbo crop of success stories about the country’s fastest growing companies and the indestructible, supercharged entrepreneurs behind them.

But this year’s Hot 100 comes with a caveat. Our list is based on the latest accounts filed at Companies House. In the majority of cases, that means early to mid-2008. That’s before Lehman Brothers, the fourth-largest US investment bank, filed for bankruptcy. Before repossession rates, corporate failures and unemployment figures shot through the roof. And before the global economy plummeted into recession.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s this: no entrepreneur is indestructible.

When we interviewed this year’s Hot 100 stars, many were decidedly cautious. Zoe Plummer, who runs Yorkshire-based Fulford Builders (29th), told Real Business with refreshing northern candour that she didn’t think it right to boast about the company’s previous achievements when she just had to lay off staff because of the economic downturn.

Terry List, who founded the fastest growing company in the country, admits he feels like a “phoney” appearing in the list, having just cut 100 jobs at his family-run engineering firm List Group (see our interview on pages 28-31). “Twelve months ago, everything was looking like it was going to carry on expanding. Now we’re hoping to maintain what we’ve got.”

The list is packed with construction and financial services firms, two sectors which have been crushed by the jaws of the credit crunch in the past few months. Take The ECU Group (69th), for example. This Mayfair-based company helps homeowners take out multi-currency mortgages. Last year, before the market imploded, it was managing in excess of £900m for its portfolio of 15 banks, institutions and high net-worth individuals. Sales had jumped from £2.9m in 2005 to £9.1m in 2008, with compound growth at 47.4 per cent. The essence of its business is placing debt, such as mortgages, in currencies that fall in value relative to sterling, with ECU then taking a commission on any profits made. It’s fair to say that things are not as they were. "In common with other investment managers, we saw redemptions in 2008,” says co-founder Charles Romilly. “But funds under management are rising again."

Mark our words, the mix of businesses in next year’s list will look very different. “2008 was the year of depressed valuations. 2009 is when the recession will really start to bite, affecting underlying trading,” comments Darryl Eales, chief executive of LDC, the private equity company that sponsors the Hot 100. “It will be interesting to see how these companies fare over the next 12 months.”

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