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Meet Britain’s fastest-growing private companies: 61-70

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61. Manpower Direct

The brainchild of a group of university friends, this Essex-based security company was formed in 2003 by Sharjeel and Kashif Bhatti, and Muhammad Alam. It provides both plain-clothed and uniformed security officers to shopping centres, corporate clients such as W H Smith, and public-sector clients such as the NHS. Manpower Direct has expanded into additional services including event security and car parking enforcement. The company has grown 59.3 per cent, with sales having risen to £7.4m.

62. Excelian

This IT consultancy, established in 2001 by Adrian Marshall and Stephen Grant, is focused on the financial services sector, it provides a systems-implementation service and has recently benefited from increased demand for trading and risk-management technology. With the carbon footprint of the worldwide IT industry set to surpass the aviation industry, Excelian has recently extended into environmental consulting, offering audits and reduced carbon computing. Sales have surged from £3.4m to £13m, a growth of 57.3 per cent. 

63. Thunderhead

Nothing to do with rain or shower fittings, this company provides electronic communications software, predominantly to the financial services sector. Glen Manchester, founder and CEO, explains: “We provide future-proof technology that allows companies like Saga, Admiral Insurance or ING to create a customer communication and send it by email, SMS, web or mail, in hours, whereas in the past this might have taken days.” The emphasis is on “making sure the right person gets the right information at the right time, through the right channel”. Manchester set the business up in 2001, having sold a prior business in the enterprise software market. Thunderhead has more than 100 customers and saw sales rise from £4.1m to £15.9 over the past four years – not bad, given that most customers are in financial services. The ambitious target going forward is to grow revenue threefold over the next two years.

64. Net-a-porter

Hot 100 regular Natalie Massenet has finally received an offer she can’t refuse for her fashion dotcom. Luxury-goods group Richemont dangled £50m under her nose for her remaining stake in Net-a-Porter. Richemont already owned 33 per cent, and Massenet has decided to cash out. The sale confirms Massenet’s status as one of the nation’s finest ever dotcom entrepreneurs. She founded Net-a-porter in 2,000 during the last few months of the original dotcom bubble. As a fashion journalist with no experience, running a business and with a very young daughter to nurse, you wouldn’t have bet your house on her succeeding. But as rival sites such as Boo.com and Ready2shop went bust, Massenet proved her mettle by finding investors, courting the fashion press and posting stunning profits year after year. The secret of her success was her ability to form relationships with existing brands – magazines like Grazia and Vogue were as much in love with Massenet as the haute couture goods she sold. The value in PR Massenet generated by virtue of her glamorous personality was incalculable. Last year Net-a-porter posted profits of 10.1m on a turnover of £81.5m, an increase of 243 per cent. Massenet, 44, says she will remain with the firm as executive chairman.

65. Interface Contracts

Oldham-based electrical contractor Interface Contracts specialised in servicing ship-to-shore cranes in UK ports, when Chinese imports began to undercut the market. Interface’s services were no longer in demand. What to do? Brian Taylor, who founded Interface in 1992 with Paul Mullendar and David Allen, says it was time for a radical rethink. “We focused on a new sector, namely water utilities. What can I say? It worked out brilliantly. The niche just grew and grew.” When the water companies introduced strict new quality rules, Interface found the competition was excluded. Work poured in. Last year turnover rose to £5.3m keeping Interface on target to hit its target of £15m in five years. “There’s no reason we can’t keep growing at the same rate,” says Taylor. One for the Hot 100 2011 perhaps? 

66. Sun Contractors

Yaser Salman only founded his property maintenance and facilities management firm in 2004 but he’s already got a £7.4m turnover. Sun Contractors also has a sizeable construction and roofing division capable of everything from new build to refurbishment and renovation. 

67. VTL Group

From Huddersfield to the world, VTL Group is a manufacturer that gives real credibility to the idea that Britain can once again be an industrial super-power. With five plants in Europe, India and the USA, VTL makes high-tensile brass alloys and precision-engineered components for industries from aerospace and automotive to construction and the oil industries. Toyota, Renault-Nissan and Magna Powertrain are just some of its customers. VTL was formed in 2001 by an MBO of French-owned Valeo Transmissions. New owners, Chris Elliott, David Clegg and Bruno Jouan set out an ambitious roadmap using both organic expansion and acquisitions. 

That aggressive mindset never went away. In 2009, VTL invested £300,000 in a new forge and £200,000 in a new machining centre, adding 80 to the 140 headcount in Huddersfield. Jouan says the original target was to increase turnover from £37.5m in 2008 to £100m turnover by 2012, but the recession is holding the firm back a little. “We’ll get to £70m, but we haven’t been growing quite as we hoped. We aren’t losing sales but the world economy hasn’t made life easy.” He says VTL will continue its global conquest. “There is no such thing as a UK manufacturing business. You have to go where your customers are. For us, that means having a global presence. It’s not a deliberate strategy – it would be more true to say that we simply have no choice!”

68. Heartwood Wealth

In 1988, a firm of solicitors in Tunbridge Wells had the clever idea of offering wealth management for wealthy clients. The move was logical, as few banks or investment boutiques could match the firm’s legal knowledge, and the reputation of solicitors as wise, steady, trustworthy individuals was markedly different to the champagne and bonuses culture of the City. The venture was a slow-burning success, and in 2005 the management, lead by current chairman David Lough, executed a buyout. Heartwood now employs 70 staff, has £1bn under management and boasts 25 FTSE-100 chairman amongst its 1,400-strong customer base. Chief executive Simon Lough says that the MBO has been the key to growth. “Two-thirds of the staff at Heartwood own shares, and 93 per cent of the shares are held by people active in the business. That ownership keeps us all focused. We ensure new employees have the opportunity to own shares through a share incentive plan. Many wealth managers hit a ceiling when they reach the half a billion to a billion funds-under-management. They find they can’t attract the right people. We are breaking through that ceiling because of our ownership structure.” 

69. Templeton Recruitment

Don’t work in your business, work on your business. It took Real Business reader Nadeem Ahmad a few years to realise the truth behind that maxim. “I founded Templeton Recruitment in 1996. We supply top-end IT contractors. Turnover grew to a stable £3m and stayed there year after year. At the end of 2005, I decided to turn Templeton into a “proper” firm. Instead of doing everything myself, I hired experienced managers to run the firm for me and to find new clients. That way, I could take more of a back seat and find time to think about how to expand the business. Turnover rose very quickly! Now I’ve just hired two managers who used to run much larger firms than mine so we can continue to grow.” 

70. H&M Security Services

Arsenal legend Frank McLintock played more than 700 matches and captained the Gunners to the league and cup double in 1971. Now he’s putting in crunching tackles in the corporate world as commercial director of H&M, a security firm based in East-London. McLintock’s not actually the founder; that honour belongs to Ian Henderson and Brian Tuite, who have worked with McLintock to win clients such as Network Rail, Atkins and the NHS. 

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Meet Britain’s fastest-growing private companies: 71-80
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