Telling the truth about SME life today

The biggest company on the list, environmental fuel supplier Greenergy (67th), is a colossus to rival most listed businesses. Its turnover climbed a whopping 71 per cent, with sales just shy of £1.2bn and profits of £17.5m. This is its third consecutive appearance on our list, making it one of our “hottest” businesses of all time.

Others making a return appearance include MX Telecom (ranking 9th in 2007 and 69th this year), which provides the technological platform that supports text-in competitions and votes, giving additional revenue streams for game shows and reality TV.

Turnover has already topped £45m, but co-founder Mark Fitzgerald says it is floating on a burgeoning part of the media industry. He says the business has no choice but to keep adapting and growing: “In this industry, if you’re not running, you’re effectively going backwards. We are technically superior and innovative, so we’re always first to market. Our clients know they’ll never get left behind.” Don’t bet against another return to the Hot 100 for MX next year.

Then there’s online fashion boutique Net-A-Porter (38th last year, 58th this), which pitches itself as a premium online magazine where everything is for sale. The business has more than 200 designers on its books and exports to 170 countries. Such is its strength that it’s able to negotiate exclusive deals with leading fashion brands such as Halston and get clothes from the catwalk to the checkout within 24 hours.

But the 2008 Top Dog is a newcomer to the list: financial information provider Markit Group. In the seven years since the company was founded, it has developed a turnover exceeding £53m and profits of more than £15.5m – a margin of 29 per cent, making it also one of the most efficient money-makers on our list.

According to co-founder Lance Uggla, building in economies of scale will enhance Markit Group’s profits even further: “When you reach the right scale in this industry, margins can be about 40 to 50 per cent. But you have to reach that scale – that’s the challenge.”

More profitable than even these heady figures, however, is fellow financial informer Winton Capital, which makes its wedge providing research-based strategies to derivatives traders.

The interesting bit is that it hires academics, not flyboys, to research the market and formulate trading plans for big investment banks. Sitting pretty at number 28, the business reports pre-tax profits knocking on the door of £60m on turnover of little more than £92m; a margin of 65 per cent.

But Winton chief David Harding assures us his business is far from a stroll in the park: “In this business, you can be disgustingly successful – but it’s also disgustingly competitive.”

“It’s all very positive,” adds LDC’s Berry. “Businesses are not relying on wonder products to sustain their turnover and profits; it’s more to do with consistent excellence of product and service.”


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