Telling the truth about SME life today

Berry, a regular commentator on the Hot 100, is also struck by the number of large firms featuring in the list this year. It goes without saying that, in percentage terms, it’s much harder to grow when you’re a goliath business such as Greenergy (£1.2bn turnover), Derek Raphael Holdings (55th, £328m turnover) or RJH Trading (13th, £170m turnover).

“Margins are very tight,” says RJH boss Charles Swindon. “You need to be extremely disciplined and focused, hedging and off-setting all your risk to preserve profit margins.”

“It’s incredible that businesses of such scale can grow so quickly; in some cases by as much as 140 per cent on aggregate over the four-year period,” says Berry. “Some of the biggest firms are also the fastest growers, and while acquisitions will be the reason in many cases, it’s still a remarkable achievement.”

Bex Contracts (27th) is one such acquirer, with the bulk of its 117 per cent aggregated growth stemming from a big acquisition in 2006. “We’ve had particularly good growth in recent years since we bought a majority stake in FPH. We specialise in south-west London and they in north-west London, so that has complemented our business nicely,” says Bex Contracts director Michelle King.

But what about the classic stumbling blocks that companies grumble about” Surely government bodies or frustrations associated with a lack of formal education must bring even stellar businesses down to earth occasionally” Not so, says Berry.

“The entrepreneurs are motivated individuals who have just got on with it,” he says. “It’s clear from the results of the Hot 100 survey that ambitious owners overcome bureaucracy rather than let it hold them back.

“These entrepreneurs have been willing to take risks early on in their careers. This left them little time for formal professional education; it’s no surprise that only eight per cent earned a professional certificate, such as an MBA, with a third never going to university.”


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